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Gays, Guns and Guest Workers: The Republican Convention

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Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican state convention in Fort Worth. June 5, 2014.
Christopher Hooks
Gov. Rick Perry addresses the Republican state convention in Fort Worth. June 5, 2014.

Party conventions are a time for collective healing—an occasion to pivot away from the infighting of primary season and summon hatred for the other side. It’s a time to come together and put away the angry words directed at each other as recently as the week before. As healing events, conventions are usually successful, and there’s no reason to think that the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth this week won’t be, too. But there are a few fault lines in the party that have developed in recent weeks, and the way they’ll play out in the next couple days will say a lot about where the Texas GOP is in 2014.

The biggest fight this week will likely be over a small part of the Republican platform that contains what’s become known, in a strangely grandiose fashion, as the “Texas Solution.” At the 2012 convention, the party managed to include an endorsement of an expanded guest worker program into the platform—a first for the party—but kept other red meat provisions, like calling for English to be made the country’s official language. The idea that this small, symbolic step represented a novel or interesting “solution” to the country’s immigration problems was always somewhat farcical, but it was nonetheless extremely controversial among the conservative base. And for two years, that group has been yearning to strip it back out.

For weeks, conservatives have been gaming out strategies to do just that. But the immigration provisions are a top priority for party leaders, who are trying desperately to drag the party toward a pragmatic approach on immigration, for the sake of both the business wing of the GOP and in the service of the nebulous concept of “Hispanic outreach.”

Conservatives accuse the party of stacking the platform committees with “pro-amnesty” puppets, and of intimidating those who don’t support the measure. On Wednesday night, a platform committee gave a nod to reworked immigration language that kept the main tenets of the 2012 language. The new language rails against “special pathways” to citizenship for undocumented residents, but leaves the door open for undocumented residents who receive legal status of some kind to become citizens using the traditional method—in other words, it wouldn’t aim to prevent them from becoming citizens.

But the current version of the 2014 plank also contains changes designed to assuage conservative fears. The words “guest worker” don’t appear in the platform language—they’ve been replaced by support for “an efficient, cost effective system that responds to labor shortages,” though who this is supposed to fool is unclear.

Lt. governor hopeful Dan Patrick had much to do with the crafting of the new language, as did Greg Abbott. Though Patrick supported a guest worker program in 2007, his recent rhetoric made it appear there was at least a chance he’d weigh in against the plank with the tea party and against the party leadership. So far, that hasn’t been the case. However, the “Texas solution,” which used to be a single package, has been broken up into five planks—making it easier, later in the process, to strip out some provisions but not others.

There’s also the gays. When the party denied the Log Cabin Republicans, a prominent pro-gay GOP group, a booth at the convention last week, it was unsurprising—they’d done so before. In 1996, the Log Cabin Republicans sued for the right to be included in that year’s state convention, and the case went to the Texas Supreme Court. The gay GOPers lost. The justice who wrote the opinion for the majority? Greg Abbott. Eighteen years later he’s running for governor, and the party’s position hasn’t budged an inch.

Well, it’s changed a tiny bit. The draft platform that’s out now nixes previous language: “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God.”

If that sounds discouragingly like progress to you, be reassured that the draft adds an endorsement of anti-gay “therapy.” The GOP is preparing to recognize “the value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.”

Thursday night will see two competing rallies on LGBT issues. The Republican Liberty Caucus, a libertarian-oriented organization, is holding a barbecue on the periphery of the festivities to call for me a more “inclusive” party. The Conservative Republicans of Texas, meanwhile, are holding a fête at the swank Omni Hotel to huff and puff about the recent ruling against Texas’ anti-gay marriage amendment. That one boasts the RSVP of “180 state and local elected officials”—from Ted Cruz and John Cornyn on down.

There’s also a heavy open carry presence here—groups pushing for the right to carry long guns in cities and handguns openly are doing their damnedest to push the issue under the noses of next session’s legislators. They’ll be having a rally Thursday night at Fort Worth’s Water Gardens, but their presence is just as keenly felt indoors. Angela L. Peña, a delegate who’s also representing the Rio Grande Valley chapter of Open Carry Texas, brought her Pietta 1858 New Army Revolver onto the convention floor. Though TABC regulations ban guns in the convention center, there’s an exception carved out for pre-1899 models. Many feel a growing sense of certainty the 2015 Legislature will side with them on their issues.

Then there are the losers—the supporters of David Dewhurst and other “moderate” candidates who got more or less crushed in last week’s primary. Dan Patrick and crew may have won easily, but there’s a not-insignificant cadre of GOPers who don’t have a lot of respect for the man—or his ticketmates.

You wouldn’t know that by walking around the convention center, though. Most of the true believers here—the most passionate and energized in the Republican base—are all in for Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, et al. The most popular buttons, stickers and shirts are still those circulated by Ted Cruz’s floor crew—but Patrick is a close second. Dewhurst, meanwhile, the vanquished foe, might have been expected to come and hug Patrick, and smoke the proverbial peace pipe—but he’s going to France instead, for the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Fort Worth is a lovely place, but he might be getting the better deal. While Dewhurst might be savoring a pricey bottle of Pinot Noir in Caen, the true believers here will be slugging it out over amnesty, gay marriage and Obamacare while Dew’s two-minute goodbye video plays on the convention floor to people who were never that into him in the first place.

Gov. Rick Perry made a significantly flashier exit at his last GOP convention in office. A lengthy video montage and an introduction from his wife, Anita Perry, set up a speech that hit all of the points we’ve come to expect from a Perry address: For example, did you know that Texas’ economy is doing very well according to many metrics?

Perry’s speech was one of the first agenda items on the convention, after which he’s bowing out. Also keeping a low profile, strangely enough, is the fellow who’s at the top of the GOP ticket—Attorney General Greg Abbott. He’s addressing the convention, on Saturday, but he’s not showing his face much otherwise—while Dan Patrick’s supporters flood the convention. It’s an odd thing.

This convention belongs to the new generation—even if that new generation is composed exclusively of white men of a similar vintage as the old generation. Even if they look the same, their politics are very different. This weekend will give us some insight into how they’ll govern.

  • Sanders Kaufman

    I can’t fault the Republicans for behaving this way toward gays. They’re just standing up for their long-established principles.
    The fault lies with gay Republicans who are so stupid as to think that the GOP would ever support them.

  • R1o2b3

    I can understand how the GOP has essentially become a party of bigots. I mean bigots in every sense of the word. From diluting minority representation and voting to rolling back rights for women. Their economic policies are as bigoted as their social policies are. 19 trillion dollars a year in corporate welfare primarily going to wealthy folks that look just like them, while ignoring the rest of the economy that affects most Texans. They have become the party of anti science, anti education, and forgot how to invest in a future workforce. Demographics are not in their favor, which is why I encourage them to stay their present course. Most folks who have voted Republican have done so out of blind allegiance. When people realize the damage created by the economic policies of the GOP, they might think twice about being manipulated by social issues from what has become a regressive religious cult of greed and hate.

    • Moejoe

      How on earth can you say Republicans have rolled back voting rights? Because everyone should provide ID to vote? You can get ID cards for free. Why don’t we just all vote as many times as possible? Or better yet we could stick our finger in purple ink. But that would be a voting right violation too, wouldn’t it? Anti science because we don’t think an abortion at the last hour before birth should be legal? Anti education because it’s not the government’s place to teach our children about a revisionist history, or not the government’s place to have a nurse question our children without a parent being present? What is this ‘investing in a future workforce’ issue? Are you talking about doubling the minimum wage thereby putting the largest employment sector – small businesses – out of business? Or are you talking about Toyota moving here, with hundreds of other companies, thereby increasing suburban development, home building, restaurants, etc because the tax rates are more conducive to growth AND employment and a high tide raises all boats, not just yours? And news flash – economists now say the recession ended in 2008. DC should open up Keystone and let the oil flow, and should cancel the EPA regulations Mr. Obama just ordered via executive fiat. Talk about hurting the little people. Gas prices will spike and here you are whining about mean, stupid Republicans. Stop blaming everyone else and consider YOUR role in this mess.

      I am a conservative woman and don’t give two cents about who or what you have a relationship with or what you do in that relationship. You are an adult. Talk about a cult of greed and hate. Democrats have lost their minds.

      • R1o2b3

        Regarding voting laws that have already been ruled discriminatory, there was never any proof of voter fraud. That is a myth. And it has been perpetuated by folks like yourself. These ID cards amount to a poll tax as the courts initially decided. Discrimination and white supremacy are obviously still with us when Federal Judges ruled “Texas [GOP] invoked the specter of voter fraud as pretext for racial discrimination.” and ……..”removed economic centers and district offices from African-American and Latino districts, while giving white Republicans perks…………….and “circumstantial evidence indicated the design of the new congressional districts “was motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.” And have cited “well supported” testimony that African Americans in Fort Worth had been “exported” into a rural, “Anglo-controlled” district to the South, while Latinos on the North side of the city had been put into another white, suburban district, leaving the “reconfigured” Senate District 10 a “majority Anglo” district……And concluded that a district map “was enacted with discriminatory purpose.”

        So when the census bureau says that over 75 % of the population growth in Texas during the last decade was from minorities, Republicans see fit to grant one of the four new congressional districts to minorities. Bravo. Politics or racism? I say the latter.

        Regarding marriage equality, it is convenient for you to take your own personal stance while your party continues to waste taxpayer money defending unconstitutional state family law. The same with Abortion. This isn’t about last minute abortions as you claim. This is about circumventing Roe v. Wade by requiring admitting procedures and hallway widths that our own Texas Doctors say are needless and unwarranted. It is about closing as many clinics as possible.

        Speaking of circumventing, the GOP has been circumventing Article VII of the State constitution for years now and wasting tax payer money defending under funded schools. I would like to know what you consider “revised” in our history?

        19 billion a year in corporate Welfare. That could be spent on education, infrastructure, transportation, and other public services in health. 40 million to Toyota to bring 4000 job holders from other states here. These jobs aren’t even for Texans. In a state that ranks 9th highest in poverty and leads the nation in poverty wage jobs, Perry didn’t create jobs with Toyota, he produced a poverty wage service economy for the campus that we will pay for through more medicaid and food stamps.

        The working poor and some of the middle class in Texas pay a heavier tax burden than their counter parts in California. And small businesses have been left out of the loop. That is where the focus should be. Not on highly profitable corporations and their treasuries and GOP coffers.

        • Moejoe

          “Courts initially decided” regarding a poll tax…until 1966. And to alleviate further gyrations, IDs are now free. Voter fraud DOES exist. Courts are right and left, too. Unfortunately.
          You seem to be conflating the entire history of politics in your comments but you left out LBJ and his horrendous comments about welfare and democrat voters.
          Have you seen Sheila Jackson Lee’s district? As far as I’m concerned we should divide the districts into equally sized squares. Surely you know the R and D parties both have a vested interest in drawing their districts like this. And neither of them should be patted on the back for this.
          And I’m not surprised you choose racism over politics. If you admitted it was politics, whatever would you rant about if racism was removed?
          If liberals don’t realize that BOTH parties have brought the country to where it is, they truly have no critical thinking skills and will forever continue their false rants.

          • R1o2b3

            Nope. That was a ruling in 2012.

            I would just add that between the few ACTUAL CONVICTIONS RATHER THAN FALSE CLAIMS OF in person voter fraud that have been produced, our voting system does not lack integrity. Since the year 2000 with 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, the little more than 10 cases found represent one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.

            Clearly racism exists in other parts of the country, not just the South. However, discriminatory legislation seems to be coming from one particular political party.

            “The Texas ID law requires expensive and time-consuming efforts by citizens who don’t have specific forms of identification such as aTexas photo driver’s license or concealed handgun permit. Texas will offer a free Election Identification Certificate, but to get it, citizens will have to present specific forms of identification that can be costly and difficult to obtain, such as a birth certificate, which in Texascosts $22. In addition, to get the election ID card, a citizen must show up at a driver’s license center in person, and a third of Texascounties — 70 of them — don’t have centers.”

            The Voter-Fraud Myth: What Racist Voter ID Laws Are Really About


            “There is no evidence of outcome-changing voter fraud in America. What there is evidence of is narrow-minded, life-inexperienced people who can’t think for themselves in the midst of manufactured clouds of fear and mindless screeching of impending doom by callous extremists. The need for voter IDs in the United States is baseless, has no merit and is extremely cruel in its intent. Just because people do not live their lives like you does not mean that they are less human, less deserving of the rights of all citizens, and without need for each of us to stand firm for all of us to fully participate in the processes that shape this nation.

            Let’s move on to what really matters: saving this country for everyone who is here. We cannot afford to waste one human life or to trample one person’s rights so that a narrow but vocal few can scream fire while they are in the middle of a theater.”

            Comprehensive Database of U.S. Voter Fraud Uncovers No Evidence That Photo ID Is Needed


            “There is absolutely no evidence that (voter impersonation fraud) has affected the outcome of any election in the United States, at least any recent election in the United States,” Schultz said.”


          • TerrynHouston

            It is had for older citizens and the physically disabled people to get voter ID’s. Older people have to obtain their birth certificates and would have to present them in person.
            If someone wants to go to every nursing facility and sign them up, then I say ok. But people don’t have transportatation and money to get he things you need to get the free iD. There are many things you are taking for granted here. There has been no proof of voter fraud either.