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Migrantchildren
Eugenio del Bosque
Unaccompanied Mexican children waiting to be processed in Reynosa, Mexico

The U.S. government has reopened an emergency shelter at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to house unaccompanied children from Central America.

Government officials had estimated as many 60,000 unaccompanied kids—the majority of them from Central America—would be apprehended at the border this year, but now officials predict it will be 70,000 or more.

“The shelters are running out of bed space,” says Lavinia Limon, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy organization U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. At least 75 percent of the children traveling without a parent or adult relative are from three countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

On May 12, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson declared “a level-four condition of readiness” in the Rio Grande Valley, according to the New York Times, which allows the department to receive resources from other federal agencies when it’s been overwhelmed. The level-four declaration also triggered the reopening of Lackland Air Force Base as an emergency overflow shelter. The military base was used as an emergency shelter for two months in 2012.

The military base will temporarily house at least 1,000 children, says Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Administration for Children and Families, which provides care and shelter to the children as an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2011, the number of unaccompanied children in U.S. government shelters has skyrocketed from 8,000 to more than 60,000 this year. Limon said that officials had worked to significantly shorten the time in detention as a way to deal with the surge in child migrants but the rapidly increasing number of children outpaced them. The increase in children trying to immigrate to the U.S. is due to several factors, including deteriorating security and economic conditions in Central America. “Honduras is the murder capital of the world,” Limon says. “Children are willing to risk the dangerous journey because they think it’s less dangerous than staying home.”

Robert Duncan
State Sen. Robert Duncan, (R-Lubbock)

The Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton broke word this morning that state Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) is stepping down to become the next chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. A special election will be called to fill out Duncan’s term, which ends in 2016.

Duncan, a veteran of the Texas Senate, was no liberal. But he was more moderate than many of his colleagues in the Senate GOP caucus, and he was seen as a force for stability by Senate watchers. In 2013, Texas Monthly named him one of the session’s best legislators—the sixth time it had done so. The magazine raved about his “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” In 2009, it stipulated that “there was hardly an issue—the budget, eminent domain, health care reform, college tuition—that wasn’t improved by his intellectual rigor and deft touch as a mediator.”

Now he’s leaving—and if current trends hold, he may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

Texans for Education Reform and Democrats for Education Reform

For 20 years, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) has been protecting our hospitals and business leaders from meddling trial lawyers, convincing the Texas Legislature to cap damage awards and closing the courthouse doors to some potential plaintiffs. For two decades, TLR has been wildly successful, perhaps the most successful special interest in Texas. Having conquered the civil justice system, TLR is moving on—to education.

Texans for Education Reform launched midway through the 2013 legislative session, and shares lobbyists, board members and a spokeswoman with TLR. (TLR president Dick Trabulsi, for example, sits on the school reform group’s board.) The two groups also share a few of the same deep-pocketed donors, wealthy individuals like Dick Weekley, Ray Hunt and Doug Foshee who helped the education group raise nearly $1 million for its new political action committee. Just under $200,000 was distributed to candidates ahead of the March primary.

It might seem strange that Texas’ preeminent tort reform advocates have taken a keen interest in public schools, of all things. But TLR’s move into education mirrors a nationwide trend over roughly the last decade: Advocacy groups and business leaders have spent big money trying to apply business principles to schools, a particular brand of school reform built around school choice and fewer job protections for teachers.

In the past few years, as other states tried bold school reform experiments, Texas—despite being generally friendly to charter schools and a free-market laboratory in so many other ways—has done little. But that could be changing fast.

Texans for Education Reform emerged last year to make up for lost time and to shake schools from the status quo. “Most of the other interest groups in this space weren’t advancing agendas; they were restricting bills,” Texans for Education Reform consultant Anthony Holm told the Texas Tribune last year. The group dispatched 19 lobbyists to the Texas Capitol, many of them highly paid, pushing charter school expansion, online learning and state takeover of low-performing schools. Texans for Public Justice noted the group was the 2013 session’s most formidable newcomer, debuting by spending as much as $1.2 million on lobbyists like former Senate education chairwoman Florence Shapiro, Rick Perry’s old friend Mike Toomey, and Adam Jones, a former deputy education commissioner.

The group’s spokeswoman, Sherry Sylvester, declined to discuss what the group will go after next session, offering only that it will advocate “research-proven reforms that empower parents, reinforce local control and provide pathways for intervention in chronically failing schools within a morally responsible timeline.”

Whatever that means, Texans for Education Reform will likely find itself in agreement with Democrats for Education Reform, which recently launched a chapter in Texas. That group—through a spinoff group called Education Reform Now Advocacy—has already distinguished itself as Texas’ No. 2 “dark money” spender in this year’s elections. Dark money is cash culled from undisclosed, usually corporate, contributors. In a flurry this spring, Democrats for Education Reform dropped $114,000 in anonymous cash on phone banks and mailers supporting four candidates: El Paso Reps. Marisa Marquez and Naomi Gonzalez; Ramon Romero, who upset longtime Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam in March; and Erika Beltran, a Teach for America alum who’s worked on school reform in Dallas, in a race for the State Board of Education.

For the campaign mailers, Democrats for Education Reform hired SDKnickerbocker, a Washington-based communications firm that, as The Nation described it in 2012, is “led by a team of former Democratic operatives and key White House figures.” According to an accounting by Texans for Public Justice, those contributions amounted to 13 percent of all the direct political expenditures in Texas from January 2013 to late April 2014.

Democrats for Education Reform has been around for years, with support from multi-billion dollar hedge fund managers. But its Texas branch is just getting started, led by Jennifer Koppel, whose past titles include vice president for growth at the IDEA charter school chain. Koppel says she’s still forming the group’s Texas-specific strategy. “We are definitely still trying to think about where we’ll get involved legislatively,” she tells the Observer, but that they’ll support candidates who’ve been engaged with school reform issues and aren’t “beholden to the old way of doing things.”

Texans for Education Reform may have the power of the Texas GOP establishment behind it, but Democrats for Education Reform’s national scope gives the group a different sort of strength. Koppel speculates her group might take Texas lawmakers to see school reforms in action in other states.

“For Democrats there is this constant questioning to say, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’” she says. “And they’re asking these questions. It’s hard in a vacuum to build that confidence.”

While conservative groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation have embraced school choice from a free-market perspective, Koppel says there’s a simple reason Democrats should be enthusiastic about reform: “You’re looking at the places where these failing schools are, and they’re overwhelmingly places that are represented by Democrats. And you wonder where the disconnect is.”

Across the country, and now in Texas, this flavor of school reform has been a bipartisan effort, happily blending progressive urges to aid poor communities’ troubled schools with the conservative promise of better, cheaper education with a little private sector know-how. It’s a potent combination that leaves little legislative muscle behind populist ideals like strong neighborhood schools and teacher unionization. The money behind school reform is party-blind, and it’s just starting to flow into Texas’ elections.

As Joe Williams, who heads DFER, told the San Antonio Express-News in April, “My hope is we’re talking two years from now about being involved in a lot more than just a handful of races in Texas.”

The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.
cakewrecks.com
The inevitable result of Mayor Annise Parker's totalitarian policies.

Where to start? This was a week of WTF not as subtext, but as text. Some weeks, WTF Friday can be harder to put together than others. It can feel like sitting on the surface of a calm and tranquil ocean, casting a line out, and waiting for three-eyed fish. This was no such week. The sea is raging with WTF. Three-eyed fish are piling up on the floorboards, threatening to overturn the Observer‘s humble fishing skiff. This, dear readers, was a weird, weird week.

1) This was a week in which Houston City Council hearings over that city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance (which would protect the LGBT community, and a whole lot of other folks, from workplace and other discrimination) devolved spectacularly, in exactly the way you’d assume, and bottomed out with the invocation of “Swastika cakes.” Forcing Christian bakers to make cakes for gay weddings, Pastor Steve Riggle told a Jewish council member, would be like forcing a Jewish cake baker to make a cake for Nazis. A Swastika cake.

You will be astonished to learn that the metaphor doesn’t quite hold. Nazis are not a protected class—this is still America, happily, and you are free to refuse to do business with Nazis, as happened in 2008 when one New Jersey supermarket refused to make a birthday cake for 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell. There is the additional fact that gay people, as of 2014, have not attempted to murder all Christians, nor do they seem likely to do so in the short- to medium-term. For the curious, though, here is how you can make a Swastika cake at home.

2) This was a week in which David Dewhurst, in the course of his (rapidly deteriorating OR increasingly successful) bid to best state Sen. Dan Patrick for the GOP lite guv nomination, imprisoned one unfortunate millennial in a David Lynch-inflected meta-hellscape, then filmed a moderately erotic short film about Jerry Patterson’s gun collection.

3) And it was a week that ended in an almost incomprehensible street brawl over the fact that Dan Patrick got brief psychiatric treatment back when the Norwegian band a-ha was still in the studio working on “Take On Me.” Followed by the detailed recounting of the tale of a former Houston Press reporter, Paul Harasim. He alleged Patrick once:

“grab[bed my wife’s] thumb and stomps her foot and then I proceed to beat the shit out of him, essentially. I think that is what any Texan should do in that situation. And he thought that this was great that he could make me do this after doing that to my wife.”

Serious charges—ones that the Austin American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove confirmed with Harasim’s wife, who added some charges of her own:

“He called me a ‘dirty Mexican,’ he stomped on my foot – he didn’t step on it, he stomped on it, and he pulled my hand back and hurt my finger. It wasn’t broken but it was seriously injured,” Maria Harasim, told me when I reached her last night in Houston, where she works the front desk of a hotel.

It was the 80s, man. People did a lot of crazy things.

4) There was Rob Henneke, a former Kerr County attorney, who finds himself in a runoff to replace state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran. Henneke is a man of action, a man who hopes to match his bold words with bold deeds:

“I’m very concerned about the infiltration of our society by Muslims right now in Texas,” Henneke told listeners. “I don’t think people are aware about how pervasive that has become in our society.”

5) And there was Amy Kushnir, who showed us one way to cope when people say things we don’t agree with. On a daytime talk show put on by a local station in Dallas, Kushnir found herself talking with her co-hosts about Michael Sam, the openly gay football player who was recently drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Kushnir became more and more agitated as her co-hosts discussed Sam, and his decision to kiss his boyfriend on-air after he learned that he’d be playing in the NFL.

In a video (now made private) that was widely circulated around the county, she characterized the kiss as not in keeping with the idea of “all-American sports,” before a heated argument caused her to take off her microphone and storm off the set, declaring loudly that she was “going to Midland.”

A day later, Kushnir had more to say about Midland than, you know, the other thing:

I felt like I had no choice but to get up, push myself out of the situation because we were going nowhere, as you probably saw, and we have a term around here that we say: we’re going to Midland. What that means is we’re going to excuse ourself from the conversation politely. And that’s what I did. I just decided it was time to go to Midland. And I went to Midland, and I’m back and I’m a happy camper, and I’m ready to move on. Next. Let’s talk about something else.

Midland, as all Texans know, is a tranquil, quiet, boring place devoid of controversy, external stimulae, or agita. Let us all find, this weekend, our own private Midland.

www.facebook.com/DallasPD

Recent stories from diverse parts of Texas suggest that increased awareness, public pressure and new technology are creating more accountability for law enforcement officers who use excessive force.

On Saturday, the City Council of the small central Texas town of Hearne voted unanimously to fire a police officer who shot and killed a 93-year-old woman in her home. Her nephew had called police after the woman threatened him with a revolver, angry that he wouldn’t turn over her car keys. The officer’s firing is especially remarkable because the woman’s nephew says she shot twice before being killed. Councilmembers may have been swayed by national media attention and local outrage, but also by the officer’s history. In just two years on the force, Stephen Stem, who is white, killed two black citizens in the city of about 5,000. The first shooting took place a few months after Stem became an officer. That time, a grand jury cleared Stem and he returned to work.

On Monday, a federal jury found that four Galveston police officers used excessive force when they beat and pepper-sprayed members of a wedding party at a bar in 2008. The jury awarded the dozen plaintiffs almost $49,000 in damages. The brawl started when an off-duty officer working as a security guard tried to arrest a 19-year-old, Cole O’Balle, for underage drinking. O’Balle allegedly struck the officer, who called for backup, and about 30 officers—nearly every on-duty officer on the island—responded. They beat O’Balle so badly he had to be flown to the hospital by helicopter. Nine officers involved were temporarily suspended and four received written reprimands. The jury did not, however, find consensus on the $13 million claim by former Astros pitcher Brandon Backe, another attendee who says the injuries police gave him that day ended his career.

Also on Monday, an Austin grand jury indicted Detective Charles Kleinert on a charge of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man in the back of the neck in July. Kleinert was investigating a robbery at a bank when Larry Eugene Jackson Jr. tried to use a fake name and ID to get service there. The bank manager reported this to Kleinart, who tried to question Jackson and pursued when the man fled. Kleinart flagged down a passing motorist to use his car and chased Jackson under a bridge where he says he shot Jackson accidentally. Kleinart, who’d been an officer for almost 20 years, retired in October before an internal affairs inquiry was complete, and the Austin Police Department decided not to complete its investigation. With no official negative findings against Kleinart, the file on the killing was sealed. (For more on the secrecy of internal affairs investigations, read the Observer feature “Crimes Unpunished” here.) If convicted of the second-degree felony, Kleinart could face up to 20 years in prison. It’s the first time a grand jury has indicted an Austin officer for an on-duty shooting in more than a decade.

Finally, in Dallas on Wednesday the City Council approved a $105,000 settlement in a lawsuit claiming excessive force during a home search in 2010. Danny Cantu alleges officers threw a flash-bang grenade into his house, entered without warning, zip-tied his hands and then beat him until he lost consciousness. Officers say they were executing a no-knock search warrant because they believed Cantu was trafficking cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel. They found 0.1 grams of cocaine and a sawed-off shotgun, but Cantu was never charged with a crime in connection with the search warrant. The Dallas Morning News reports that verdicts or settlements in lawsuits against the Dallas Police Department have cost the city about $6 million since 2011. There have been 10 six-figure awards in that time. For contrast, between 2006 and 2010 there were six awards of that size totaling just $1 million.

Video played a key role in several of the recent cases. “The frequency with which we now have videotapes has certainly leveled the playing field,” Don Tittle, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, told the Dallas Morning News. “Now, in all those scenarios where we had an individual’s word against an officer—which was always a loser for the individual—if there is videotape, it doesn’t lie, and it has changed things.”

Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston)
Patrick Michels
Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) presides over a Senate Education Committee hearing.

How low can the lite guv race go? Pretty damn low. Last night, leaked papers linked to a 25-year-old lawsuit filed by state Sen. Dan Patrick revealed a new facet of Patrick’s biography: In the early 1980s, Patrick was diagnosed with depression, and took medicine to cope with it. And in “late 1984 or early 1985,” he was briefly hospitalized at a Houston psychiatric center called “Spring Shadows Glen.”

Why do we know this? In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Post columnist for libel. In 1989, the defendant’s lawyer squeezed information from Patrick about his mental health issues at a deposition. A portion of that depo was recently leaked to a number of major state media outlets. The lawyer’s interest in Patrick’s depression—it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the case, which involved an altercation at one of Patrick’s sports bars—seems to be primarily to paint him as an unreliable nut who shouldn’t be trusted with anything. That seems like a somewhat archaic view of mental health issues, but it’s exactly what the leaker of these papers is suggesting a quarter-century later.

Who leaked the deposition? Patrick’s runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was the natural target for suspicion, of course, but the San Antonio Express-News revealed it—and everyone else—had gotten the documents from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patterson ran in the first leg of the primary and has lately been waging his own quixotic jihad against Patrick. He’s ostensibly on his own, but lately, Patterson’s been collaborating with the Dewhurst campaign and cutting ads, making him a de facto Dewhurst campaign surrogate. And the Texas Tribune reported Friday that Dewhurst’s campaign may be more involved in the leak than they had previously admitted.

Patterson, a Vietnam-vet Marine who’s passionate about honor and truth-telling, has made waves in the runoff by alleging Patrick was a draft-dodger (Patrick says he had a medical deferment) and now leaking information he obtained about Patrick’s mental health treatment three decades ago (and trying to do it anonymously). Maybe he feels like he’s dishing out what he got from Patrick in the early part of the primary, but it’s not a good look.

Will it hurt Patrick, or will it backfire on Dewhurst? Too early to tell. Dewhurst partisans have been eagerly harping on the “Dan Patrick is nuts” line, but Dewhurst himself issued a statement in which he shed some of the most transparently fabricated crocodile tears of all time: “My heart goes out to Dan Patrick and his family for what they’ve endured while coping with his condition.” Even if Dewhurst didn’t leak the papers directly, he runs the risk of being penalized for a top ally’s use of the campaign equivalent of a nut-shot in boxing.

Meanwhile, the pushback from Patrick and his supporters has been robust. Patrick’s right-hand man, Allen Blakemore, released a statement with liberal use of exclamation points: “This is outrageous! Dewhurst had already hit bottom, and now he has found a new low! He has no honor, and knows no shame!” The statement went on to add that Patrick “has not required additional treatment or medication for nearly 30 years.”

And three Republican senators who are also medical practitioners—Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels)—released a statement slamming the attack:

A personal attack of this kind sinks to an unprecedented low, shamelessly attempting to embarrass Dan Patrick for seeking the appropriate medical care to treat a minor bout with depression that occurred almost 30 years ago. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 10 American adults suffer from some form of depression in their lifetime…something which the perpetrators of this attack apparently believe should disqualify them from serving their communities or contributing to society.

“We sincerely hope David Dewhurst is not responsible for this sleazy attack.” the joint statement continues.

It’s good to see Patrick supporters—and Republican state senators—speaking out about the stigma of mental illness, and the unfairness of this as an attack line in a campaign. But for those of us with memories that reach back to November, it’s a bit odd, because of what many conservatives in the state were saying about state Sen. Wendy Davis.

In 1996, Davis sued the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for defamation, after she lost an election. (It was ultimately dismissed.) As one frequently does when one seeks damages in the course of a civil lawsuit, she claimed to have suffered “emotional distress” and “continuing damages to her mental health.” That second phrase—the one that would get all the attention—was used once.

Compare this to Patrick’s situation: In 1987, Patrick sued a Houston Press gossip columnist for libel, after an altercation at a sports bar. (It was also ultimately dismissed, “with prejudice.”) In the course of this lawsuit it is revealed that Patrick has had to contend seriously with mental health issues for much of the decade, and was briefly, and voluntarily, committed to a psychiatric center.

So: both unsuccessfully sued the press, both endured revelations of mental anguish. The only real difference is that Patrick’s mental health troubles would seem, on the available evidence, to be much more substantial and long-lasting. Many conservatives in the state are rallying around Patrick: How did they treat Davis when her (very minor) admission was written up last November by noted slug pundit Eric Erickson?

Erickson wrote a sensationalist item on Davis’ lawsuit entitled: “”Abortion Barbie” Wendy Davis Claims in Court That She Has Mental Health Issues.” He said Davis’ lawsuit raised “worrisome [issues] regarding her mental stability,” and charecterized her as a “damaged” woman.

The post went viral. Predictably, the cackling horde descended on “Abortion Barbie,” the “self-proclaimed loon” who had “admitted” her “brain was damaged.”

What’s Sullivan saying now about Patrick, who also sued the press?

Dishonor indeed. May 27 can’t come fast enough.

1024px-Border_Patrol_Dodge_Ram
Wikimedia Commons

Last year, I looked into the issue of motorists declining to answer questions at interior Border Patrol checkpoints in Texas. Many believe the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In any case, you generally don’t have to answer Border Patrol agents when you’re at these internal checkpoints. If an agent has probable cause to think you’re in the country illegally—and refusing to answer their questions isn’t probable cause—the agent can briefly detain you. A fascinating case in Brownsville has put this issue to the test.

Omar Figueredo, 28, grew up in Brownsville and attends graduate school in Ithaca, New York. He visited Brownsville last year with his partner, 31-year-old Nancy Morales. The couple declined to answer questions from Border Patrol agents at the Brownsville airport, leading to their arrest.

Born in Mexico to an American mother, Figueredo spent the majority of his childhood in Brownsville hiding in shame, believing that he was undocumented. After completing his permanent residency as a teen, he found out he should have been recognized as a citizen long ago.

Figueredo says, “That was the moment when I said, ‘This is all bullshit.’ I’m shelling out money to lawyers and paying money to the INS to process this. It’s a whole industry. There are redundancies and errors all the time.”

Figueredo secured his citizenship a few years ago but, he says, “The culture of fear, the intimidation and harassment from Border Patrol is so entrenched. You’re lying if you say that you don’t feel vulnerable or nervous in any way.”

As if to reinforce that sentiment, three days before the airport incident, Figueredo, his mother and Morales were pulled over in Brownsville. The Border Patrol agents demanded to see identification and to know what they were doing. When Figueredo refused to answer their questions, the two agents threatened to call the local police. Figueredo refrained from answering, but the women complied with the officers so that they could get on their way.

These experiences were on Figueredo’s mind when he and Morales arrived at the airport in Brownsville the morning of March 26, 2013. They were approached by Border Patrol agents near security. When he and Morales refused to answer questions about their status, the agents barred them from proceeding to the security screening. The couple missed the flight.

They were re-booked on a later flight but were again quizzed by the Border Patrol. This time, when they refused to answer, they were arrested—not by the Border Patrol, but by a Brownsville police officer.

Figueredo was charged with three misdemeanors: failure to identify, which under Texas law applies only when a person being lawfully arrested refuses to give a peace officer his or her name, birth date or address; resisting arrest; and obstructing a passageway. Morales also was charged with obstructing a passageway and interfering with public duty.

The prosecutors dropped all Figueredo’s charges except obstructing a passageway, a Class B misdemeanor. On April 7, he went on trial, which yielded a hung jury. The prosecution now wants to consolidate Figueredo’s case with Morales’ and hold just one trial.

Figueredo’s lawyer, Virginia Raymond, explains that both Figueredo’s and Morales’ cases have been reduced to a question of who was standing where and for how many seconds. “Clearly obstruction was not his purpose,” Raymond says. “Based on the police report, there’s no crime. People walked around him to get on the plane, and there’s no allegation that he even touched anyone.”

Of course, there are bigger issues here. Are local law enforcement officers now the lackeys of an ever-expanding homeland security apparatus? Do U.S. citizens have a right to go about their business without Border Patrol harassment, or are they subject to arrest every time they decline to show papers or answer questions? In Brownsville, and in hundreds of communities on this side of the border, citizens must submit to requests from immigration authorities for personal information such as their legal status and reasons for traveling. Most people just give up their rights and answer these personal questions so they can go on with their lives.

Only a few folks such as Figueredo and Morales are willing to endure the fiasco involved in standing up for their rights.

Let’s hope the Cameron County Attorney’s office drops these farcical charges. If anyone did wrong here, it was Border Patrol.

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Can you hear us in there, Dewhurst woman?
Screenshot
Can you hear us in there, Dewhurst woman?

When Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst first went negative against his opponent state Sen. Dan Patrick, he did so with a somewhat strange ad that featured a young woman staring glumly at the camera over an oddly-held cup of coffee.

“It’s a struggle, but I pay my bills,” said the woman, sunk in an aging green armchair. “So why can’t millionaire Dan Patrick?” Then a voiceover related salient details from Patrick’s background: He had changed his name, and he had declared bankruptcy to write off some substantial debts. “If we can’t trust him to run his own business honestly,” the nameless everywoman concluded, looking more irate every second, “how can we ever trust him to run the state honestly?”

The ad received a lot of negative attention, in part because Dewhurst’s contention that Patrick changed his name to escape debts wasn’t, you know, true, and because Dewhurst has had debt trouble of his own.

But this morning, the woman returned. And her appearance raises many more questions than it answers. Instead of a glum woman in a dark room with a coffee cup, she’s been transformed into a perky millennial in an IKEA-styled living room ready to dish out snark Dan’s way.

Even stranger—she thinks Dan’s anger over the ad was directed at her. As in, her personally.

“I’m literally shocked,” she intones, throwing her hands up in the air. “Dan Patrick or Dannie Goeb or whatever he’s calling himself today now is attacking me in his latest false ad. Unfortunately for him,” she continues, millennial-ly, “there’s something called the internet.”

Some campaign ads feature actors posing as real people, but the Dewhurst woman isn’t really pretending to be a real person—the ad doesn’t even offer her name. She’s clearly an actress playing a character. A character which is breaking the fourth wall and appears to have gained sentience and an awareness of life outside her attack ads. It’s incredibly odd—it’s unusual, to say the least, for a campaign to create characters that experience a continuity of existence from attack ad to attack ad.

Questions abound. Is she trapped in there? What is the internal life of this character like? Why does she hate Patrick so much? Why does she suffer from such dramatic mood swings? Why are the different rooms of her house decorated so differently? Why does she think Patrick is attacking her, and not the candidate she’s flacking for?

An enhanced image of the Dewhurst woman's picture frames.
Screenshot
An enhanced image of the Dewhurst woman’s picture frames. (Click for a larger version.)

Is she lonely? A careful analysis of the two picture frames on her shelf—the only evidence of life, other than the woman herself, in this nightmare universe of Dewhurst attack ads—shows what might be a cat or dog, licking itself, or sleeping. The other frame is too blurry to make out. Is that the grim visage of a skull in the top half, draped in red? Is it a clue to the Dewhurst woman’s origins?

Much like TV’s Lost, I have a feeling that the questions raised won’t be given satisfactory treatment by the series finale, the May 27 runoff. But I hope we see the Dewhurst woman again. Maybe she’ll get a spin-off. Maybe she can get work displaying the emotions of shock and disgust for Sid Miller’s campaign.

If the Kafkaesque plight of Dewhurst woman isn’t your thing, the Dew dropped another ad today—this one operating on the principles of the naturalist, slow-paced documentaries of, say, Werner Herzog. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who recently accused Patrick of being a draft dodger, sat to do a web ad for Dewhurst. The first half of the two-minute ad is just Patterson talking about his guns, at what seems to be his kitchen table, before he switches to tough talk on Patrick. It’s oddly hypnotic.

Meanwhile, remember that ad Dew’s team ran that used pictures of Patrick shirtless at what turned out to be a charity event for disabled children? Dewhurst got major blowback, and told people he’d pull the offending parts of the ad. But it’s still running, nearly two weeks later. Here’s a version of it on Dewhurst’s YouTube page.

Two weeks to go.

Millennial Hispanics Are Losing Their Religion

A Pew study showing large shifts in Hispanic religious identity could have major implications for Texas politics.
Rally at the Capital marking anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 25, 2014
Carl Lindemann
Rally at the Capital marking anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 25, 2014

 

By 2020 or so Texas will become a predominantly Hispanic state. The political implications of this demographic transformation have been widely discussed. Democrats hope to capitalize on the growing clout of Hispanics to reverse the party’s dismal performance of the last two decades. Republicans, at least the smart ones, are banking on appeals to socially conservative Hispanics to hold onto power.

But the Pew Research Center’s new study “The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States” shows that the future isn’t simply one where Hispanics will replace Anglos as the demographically-dominant ethnic group. Rather, it’s about a rising generation of young Latinos who are redefining what it means to be “Hispanic.” Born between 1982 and 2004, these millennials—like their white, black and Asian counterparts—look to be an even tougher sell for the GOP than their elders. Still, it’s unclear whether they will show up for Democrats either.

Pew’s survey of more that 5,000 Hispanics nationwide shows that an increasing number of Latinos are leaving Catholicism, their childhood faith. Just 55 percent of those surveyed identify themselves as Catholic, down from 67 percent in the previous comprehensive study in 2006. Now, nearly a quarter of all Hispanics say they are former Catholics. Overall, non-Catholics are nearly evenly divided between evangelical Protestants (16 percent) and those who profess no religious affiliation (18 percent). Mainline Protestants and other Christians round out the remaining 8 percent.

The conversion of some Catholics to evangelicals holds out hope for the GOP. Consider the study’s findings on abortion. Overall, Hispanics tend to be conservative on this issue. Fifty-three percent say that abortion should be completely or mostly illegal, with just 40 percent in favor of abortion rights—a flip of the 40/54 percent split among Americans generally. With Hispanic evangelicals, 70 percent are in favor of making abortion illegal. That’s even more than white (non-Hispanic) evangelicals. Even so, these evangelical Hispanics still mostly identify as Democrats (48 percent vs. 30 percent support for the GOP). That’s progress for Republicans since, overall, Hispanics identify as Democrats 56/21 percent.

But this is little more than a consolation prize when contrasted with how religiously unaffiliated Hispanics are changing the landscape. The unaffiliated, also known as “nones,” include those who think of themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and those who are neither spiritual nor religious. They are far more pro-choice than Hispanics overall, even more so than the general public. They are also staunchly Democratic, overwhelming Republicans by 4-to-1.

According to the study, the bulk of the “nones” are young. What’s going on with the under-30 crowd? These are millennials, a generation significantly detached from institutions, making its presence felt. In 2010, unaffiliated Hispanics made up 14 percent of the 18-29 category. In 2013, as millennials rapidly came to dominate and define that age group, the unaffiliated more than doubled, rising to 31 percent of the cohort.

Hispanic millennials are a demographic tidal wave, the dominant ethnicity among millennials. Some 800,000 underage Hispanics turn voting age every year. They are the first generation that is mostly U.S.-born and identify closely with their non-Hispanic contemporaries. Their turn toward being “nones” closely matches the national trend, according to a separate Pew study. As the remaining millennial Hispanics come of age over the next decade, “nones” could wipe out whatever modest gains the GOP now enjoys with evangelical Hispanics.

In Texas, this doesn’t portend well for Republicans. As Sen. Ted Cruz prophesied in The New Yorker in 2012,

“If Republicans do not do better in the Hispanic community, in a few short years Republicans will no longer be the majority party in our state….If that happens, no Republican will ever again win the White House….the Electoral College math is simple….you can’t get to two-seventy electoral votes. The Republican Party would cease to exist.

Still, Democrats should pause before counting on votes from a group partially defined as “unaffiliated.” Most Hispanic evangelicals, as the Pew study reveals, reliably turn out for church services, bible study and “say churches should express their views on political and social issues.” Churches have long been a locus for both social and political change on the right.

Their unaffiliated millennial counterparts are largely disengaged from organizations and institutions that traditionally facilitate civic participation. Will they find a vehicle for social change and political participation? Most importantly, will they connect at the ballot box?

What would it take to make these unaffiliated put their faith in politics? Perhaps seeing their progressive proclivities as an opportunity for Democrats is to get it backwards. Here, what may move Hispanic millennials is the opportunity to take ownership of political institutions like the Democratic Party or to find new ones.

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