After an exhausting multi-state campaign tour to support Donna Campbell, Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney last fall, Bill Thomas put on his American flag tie, parked his American flag-bedecked Jeep and walked into the Texas Capitol to savor the fruits of his hard work: the swearing-in of Campbell as a state Senator from San Antonio.
Campbell, perhaps the most conservative of the Senate’s new members, relied on grassroots supporters like Thomas and his wife Georgia to spread her message. Thomas carried a campaign sign—one he paid to print himself, he stressed—that said it all, with but one forgivable typo: “Campbell’s Calvary.”
The 83rd Texas Legislature began on a wet day in Austin, and the various rallies planned outside—for Latino needs, for Texas secession—were crunched inside the building. (Correction: The ralliers for Texas independence braved the rain to hold theirs outside, before heading in.) A particularly motley bunch of activists, looky-loos, road-weary elected officials and well-tanned lobbyists passed each other in the hallways of the Capitol, often at as polite a distance as space would allow.
Bill and Georgia’s signatures were already written on the campaign sign Thomas carried. He said they planned to present it to Campbell after her first day on the Senate floor.
“I was extremely hesitant to get involved with her campaign,” Thomas said. “She had no chance of winning.” But over time, Thomas and his wife, who live well outside Campbell’s district in Copperas Cove, became convinced she was that rare outsider candidate with a shot, and he supported her run against incumbent Jeff Wentworth.
Thomas said he compares Campbell to Genuine Risk, the 1967 Kentucky Derby champion. The horse, Thomas said, was just the second filly to claim the title, with a balance of power and grace that made her a rarity among female horses. “Those few fillies who compete with the guys are always big, huge Amazons who can rough it up,” explained Thomas, whose son operates a horse ranch near Gatesville. “When the gate flew open, she would show her pretty posterior and never look back.”
“I think she’s gonna be a senator of icon status,” Thomas said.
Upstairs outside the House and Senate chambers, demonstrators in wheelchairs silently handed out flyers for ADAPT of Texas, which advocates for accessible communities, welcoming “The Member$ of the 83rd Texa$ Legi$lature.” Beside them outside the House chamber, a serious-faced 60-something woman stood, not handing out anything, holding a hand-lettered sign reading simply, “I’m crazy please help.”
A crowd of secessionists, all of uniform skin and T-shirt color, gathered on the ground floor for their rally for Texas independence, which had been moved inside due to rain.
Next to them in the rotunda, another rained-out rally gathered steam indoors, this one for Hispanics Organized for Political Education, MALDEF and just under 10 other Latino groups.
Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa fired up the mostly young Latino crowd of about 100. “Let’s stand up and fight. Let’s let them know there are more of us than there are of them.” By cutting education funding, Hinojosa said, “they’re taking away our freedom.”
“We’re just a bunch of crazy Mexicans who want education,” one supporter said. “It’s a pipe dream. Perry will probably never let it happen.”
Other speakers covered issues like immigration, private prisons and healthcare, but the impassioned speeches—which drew curious onlookers from outside the House and Senate chambers—often returned to education.
“The word ‘voucher’ is going to be a big word this year,” yelled Ken Zarifis from Education Austin. He was confident school vouchers wouldn’t pass this session, he said, but “what we have to watch is the cover the voucher gives to corporate charter chains.”
As that rally continued, a young blond guy sped through the rotunda, holding a green sign and looking for his group. “Texas secessionists!” he yelled. “Any more Texas secessionists?”
“They left,” someone shouted above the crowd.