The Deepening Extremism in the Lieutenant Governor Primary

by Published on
Four candidates for lt. gov.
Four candidates for lt. gov.

One of the afflictions of the politics beat is that conflict is coveted and covered, even when the story is about consensus. Reporters naturally gravitate toward (and try to create) disagreements among candidates and parties. “Fight! Fight! Fight” is the mantra. That’s not a bad instinct, but what happens when all the candidates agree on something—and that something is extreme?

We have a lieutenant governor’s race on the GOP side in which the four candidates agree on certain things that not so long ago were confined to the political fringe. They are even now not mainstream beliefs (defined roughly as beliefs held by a majority or large plurality of the public) but have become rapidly de rigueur in Republican primaries. To wit:

At a televised debate this week, all four candidates (David Dewhurst, Dan Patrick, Jerry Patterson and Todd Staples) agreed that abortions should be banned even in cases of rape or incest. It was not clear if any of them would make exceptions even for the life of the mother.

Journalist Peggy Fikac asked each of them, “Do you believe that a woman should be able to choose abortion in cases of rape and incest?” and then later followed up to make sure she had a clear answer.

TODD STAPLES: “I believe that abortion should never be used as a form of birth control.”

“In extreme cases where a mother’s life is in danger then you can have a conversation about that circumstance. But as a matter of law we need to promote life.”

DAVID DEWHURST: “I believe strongly that the life of the mother has to be protected. That’s why if there’s a question about the life of the mother, I’m supportive.”

(He later made clear that he opposes exceptions for rape and incest.)

JERRY PATTERSON: “My answer is that either it is life or it’s not. To say that we have an unborn child that is the result of a rape and somehow that’s less life-y, life-like or inferior to the life that was through a natural, non-catastrophic event like that doesn’t make any sense… I do not support exceptions for rape or incest.”

DAN PATRICK: “The only exception—the only exception—would be if the life of the mother is truly endangered for that doctor and that family to make that decision of the mother and the baby. … In those rare circumstances where the life of the mother is on the line, most mothers say let my baby live.”

In other words, the likely next lieutenant governor of Texas has staked out the most extreme position possible on abortion. And notably, it’s not one shared by very many people, including Republicans. As Jim Henson and Joshua Blank with the Texas Tribune noted yesterday, “only 16 percent of Republicans (compared to 12 percent of Texans overall) said that abortion should never be permitted.”

In that Texas Tribune/UT poll, 37 percent of Texas Republicans thought abortion should either be “generally legal” or “always legal”—a group twice the size that of the absolutist position. And 41 percent took the position that abortion should be banned except in cases of rape, incest or when pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Any way you slice the data, the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor are a minority of a minority of a minority.

To prove their bona fides, all four men also took the position that Marlise Muñoz—the brain-dead pregnant Fort Worth woman who was kept on life support against her family’s wishes—should’ve been kept alive as an incubator for her 14-week-old fetus.

And their extreme positions weren’t limited to abortion. All four men have said that creationism, which has been thoroughly discredited in the courts and certainly in the sciences, should be taught in school. Their only point of disagreement was how it should be taught.

TODD STAPLES: “I believe that creationism can be taught in our public schools in social studies if it violates what the courts have said as a science because it is something that most Texans believe in.”

DAVID DEWHURST: “I am fine with teaching creationism, intelligent design and evolution. And then let the students… decide for themselves which one of the three they believe in.”

Dewhurst apparently makes a distinction between creationism and intelligent design, though the courts have seen through that ruse, agreeing that intelligent design is little more than creationism by another name.

Dan Patrick went even further, inveighing against the separation of church and state and leaving out altogether the usual canards about teaching creationism alongside evolution.

PATRICK: “Our children must really be confused. We want them to go to school on Sunday and we teach them about Jesus Christ and then they go to school on Monday—they can’t pray they can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused.”

“When it comes to creationism, not only should it be taught, it should be triumphed, it should be heralded.”

Jerry Patterson was the least retrograde, holding open the possibility that creationism should perhaps be taught in a comparative religion class. But he balanced that out by staking out the most far-right position possible on guns. Asked if there should be any restrictions of any kind, Patterson said, “The one venue that I believe maybe handguns shouldn’t be there—although it kinda enhances the quality of the service—is a bar.”

To alter Barry Goldwater’s words, “Extremism in the defense of winning is no vice.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • 1bimbo

    self-hating texas transplants, these men are our husbands, our fathers, our uncles, our brothers and our co-workers. i happen to think they are great men who stand for strong ideals and principles…moral men who are chivalrous, protective of honorable women, religious freedom and the state and national constitution. they are compassionate, authentic, super smart freedom-loving patriots. they run our great red state. that’s why we’re on a good path. so looney liberals, get on the train or get run over.

    • http://gentlerobot.com/ Gentle Robot

      These men’s positions are troubling, but do you really think that anyone who disagrees with you deserves death? That sounds much worse than defending someone who forces another to have a child, or letting children decide whether they should believe in facts. Did you know that rapists can sue their victims for child custody?

      I’ll never figure out how transplant could have a negative connotation. A transplant is something healthy that replaces something defective.

    • JEIAC

      Lots of bluster and chest-thumping coming out of your keyboard, but not a whole lot of practical information.

      The article makes a case that the views espoused by these candidates are leaning towards an extreme opinion that doesn’t align with a majority of Texas voters. Espousing conservative views on abortion isn’t an absolute indicator of “super smart freedom-loving patriots”.

      • don76550

        Actually a majority of Texas voters don’t wear Karl Marx kneepads while giving the finger to our constitution. That is why democrats don’t do well here.

        • JEIAC

          There is nothing gained by going to the extreme and attempting to conflate Marxism with abortion. I certainly hold no illusion as to which party the majority of the state leans towards.

          Don’t mistake my post as somehow generalizing the thoughts and opinions of Texans. I merely pointed out that the comment I replied to added nothing substantial about the quality of candidates, and that the polls on abortion may indicate a shifting of attitudes in the state of Texas that may not align with the positions these candidates have taken.

          • don76550

            i don’t equate abortion with marxism, even though marxists are enthusiastic about abortion. I equate marxism with being a democrat, there is absolutely no difference.

          • JEIAC

            Still, I certainly wouldn’t go the other way and say there was no difference between a Republican and a fascist. People are a lot more complicated than just left/right political affiliations; for example there are plenty of people who vote Democrat while being against abortion.

    • Soundpam

      This middle-aged 5th generation TEXAN says you’re full of it! These crazies do NOT represent Texan beliefs. (Facts were stated in the article but I know how you hate elitist “looney liberal” things like TRUTH & FACTS. Some other FACTS – Texas was once a GREAT state – respected by the rest of the country & led by GREAT politicians we could be PROUD of like Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, etc. Republican politicians have made us a LAUGHING STOCK & have put us last in everything from health to education! The only thing we’re 1st in these days is “most poverty level jobs created”. Democrats made us GREAT. Republicans bring us shame.

      • don76550

        Democrats made nothing great. They despise our constitution, our freedoms. They are lying marxists who hate our country and are trying to destroy it. Voting for democrats is voting for treason.

      • darksantos

        Wow! Wait a Minute, the democrats of that time are not the same of today’s. The democrats that ran Texas and dominated it were pro-slavery, They supported the Black Laws. Today yes I hate how republicans are not involving state with religion. We are basically going back in the days were any discovery of science is considered a sin.

    • AngelaFromAbilene

      1bimbo I think accurately describes you and your oh so twisted thoughts. If you think so highly of these men, I think YOU are in serious need of a comprehensice psychiatric evaluation as you are not right in the head and probably should not be left loose on the public in general.

      • 1bimbo

        misandry: that’s what psychiatrists call what you may be suffering from

        • RedStar

          And which psychiatrists would those be, exactly?

    • Carol Morgan

      The most extreme of these four candidates are NOT even Texans…

  • April D. Korbel

    Forrest, much as I love your writing, please give a bit more consideration to your language discussing the Marlise Muñoz case. Every time I see someone refer to what was done to her body as “life support” I wince and tremble. It is my understanding that Mrs. Muñoz was dead before they hooked her up therefore there was no life to support. You cannot mechanically induce life where there is none, you can only keep the biomechanical processes going. This should be referred to as artificial respiration, intravenous feeding, or whatever best applies.

    And to those who would argue that her unborn baby was still alive I would point out that at 14 weeks it could not live outside her mother’s body, a body which had no life. As one side of a symbiotic relationship, the fetus also had no true life and could gain none from the body she inhabited.

    This case has been a tragedy all the way around, from the moment Marlise Muñoz fell to the moment the Judge made the obvious and way overdue decision to let her be.

  • April D. Korbel

    So every one of these men has professed a preference to violating the US Constitution? Whichever one wins the election will be required to swear to uphold and defend that very document. I sense a conflict here. Funny that the people who most vocally say they revere the Constituion are expected to vote to step on it.

  • Jack Hughes

    Those Republican candidates all understand that if they take any sort of nuanced stance on abortion their opponents will dishonestly run TV commercials blasting them for being PRO-ABORTION!!!

    Hence, they’ve all got to play dumb. This is the state of today’s Republican Party.

  • A. Zigon

    Don’t vote for any of them. Creationists, Anti Science, and coming off so moralistically for women and that’s a lie too. I don’t care what religion you follow or believe in do it in Church not the statehouse, These men are telling everyone that we should all follow their tenets and beliefs and if we don’t we couldn’t possibly be Americans. They are all a joke. Texas need to join the 21st Century and these men are not on that path.

  • AngelaFromAbilene

    Until any of these jackasses have a uterus, it’s NONE of their business what I and every other woman in this Texas do with ours. On the Munoz case, each and every one of their responses are reprehensible. To keep a corpse alive to incubate a 14 week old non-viable fetus is beyond the pale. None the less, this has become “normal” for Texas GOP leaders. Question: Had the Court not intervened and ended this sick science experiment, what sort of “entitlements” are our illustrious GOPers would they be willing to give the Munoz family to care for that poor child. This whole thing is a sick, sad mess and it all starts with people not minding their OWN damn business. I sincerely hope the Munoz family sue JPS, Tarrant County and the State of Texas for all they put this family through!

  • Bryan Blake

    I must feign OMG! Darwin may have been wrong in his general theory of evolution. Two variations of the same species can exist at the same time – each having diverged from a recent common ancestor. Or did the Neanderthals survive after all?

  • Guesterino

    Congrats, Texas. You reap what you sow.

  • nyrebel

    “It was not clear if any of them would make exceptions even for the life of the mother.” I’m sorry, but the lives of my daughter and granddaughters are very important to me and I want them protected from a bunch of legislative fools that know nothing medically. I also want the baby’s life protected in that certain abnormalities will create extreme suffering for the baby if allowed to grow and to be birthed. The abortion laws have gone way too far! They do not allow medically necessary abortions which in turn allows the mother and/or baby to suffer needlessly. I hope it’s not my daughter, my granddaughters!! I wouldn’t even wish it on these ignorant fools.