In Salado, the Tea Party Contemplates the Nation’s Future — and Rep. John Carter’s Not in It

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Rep. John Carter
Christopher Hooks
Rep. John Carter at a town hall meeting in Salado.

John Carter’s no squish. The portly 72-year old congressman cuts a figure straight out of Republican central casting. The first Republican elected in Williamson County since Reconstruction, Carter’s been slowly entrenching himself in the GOP establishment for three decades. Last year, the National Journal rated Carter the 11th most conservative member of the House.

But since Carter started indicating an openness to work on some kind of immigration legislation, he’s been getting pushback from his district. Pushback might be too gentle a term for what happened at a town hall meeting last night in Salado. Organized by the Central Texas & Williamson County tea parties, it was one of the congressman’s only publicized town halls of the August recess. Carter ate dinner with more than a hundred tea partiers, and sat with them to watch the quasi-documentary They Come to America II: The Cost of Amnesty.

But during the public town hall that followed, Carter faced a barrage of criticism for his willingness to consider immigration legislation.

In a microcosm of a political dynamic across the country, the conservative grassroots of his district don’t just oppose moving forward with immigration reform: They want the country to move fast in the opposite direction. The end of birthright citizenship. Mass deportations. More walls. Time and again, Carter told the room that he couldn’t get them what they wanted.

“This is a human issue, it involves human beings,” he said in his opening remarks. “It’s an economic issue, and it involves the economy of the United States. And it’s a legal issue.”

Carter presented the tenets of his own plan, which gives undocumented migrants a limited pathway to legalization in return for strengthened border security.

“You want a post hole dug? I can almost guarantee you won’t find anybody to do that job” who is legal, he said. Carter also emphasized that his plan would limit the pathways that legal migrants can use to bring family members to the U.S.

And that’s when things started to go off the rails. Audience members objected to the fact that Carter’s plan would continue to allow the parents of adult migrants here legally to obtain legal status themselves.

“The only reason we have mothers and fathers [in his plan] is because of Asians,” Carter said, to more shouts. “Asians have this mother and father thing.”

Carter deferred on birthright citizenship, saying that he only way to change the policy would be to amend the Constitution. That brought shouts from around the room — including, notably, Lynn Woolley, a local conservative radio host.

“That amendment was meant to prevent the Southern states from denying citizenship to former slaves,” Woolley shouted, to raucous applause. “That’s what it was! We need better judges. I’ve read what the framers wanted that amendment to be!”

Carter accused Woolley of demagoguing, and offered to debate Woolley on his radio show, but otherwise left the issue alone — which left Woolley miffed when he took to the airwaves today.

“Look, I like Congressman Carter a lot,” he said Wednesday morning. “I don’t like having a fallout with someone over one issue. But it’s an awfully big issue.”

The rest of the town hall question session found Carter on the defensive. A mustachioed rancher compared the U.S. to the Titanic, and said letting more people “who are feeding off our welfare system” gain legal status would sink the boat. A woman from Belton charged ICE with technological negligence.

“We can track a cow from birth to slaughter,” he said. “Why can’t we track someone who’s overstayed their visa?”

Another man seized on the consensus of the crowd: citizenship is the problem, not the solution.

“If you go down to the hospital here today and park in front, you’ll find numerous Mexican ladies about to go into labor,” he said. “They go to the hospital and wait until their water breaks, and then they’ll get $490 a month per child until that child is 18 years old. We’ve got to stop it.”

Carter repeated his assertion that the issue was Constitutional, but otherwise stayed silent.

The end of the question period found the event taking on an increasingly comic tone. One woman, who complained of the “fourteen illegals” in her sister’s apartment building, asked Carter: “How did Russia and China build their walls? Because they seem to have been pretty effective.” (See: Ida Siekmar and Genghis Khan, respectively.)

After the event, Carter quickly left the hall. The reaction from the audience was mixed.

David Schumacher, an impeccably dressed IBM veteran who helps lead the Williamson County Tea Party, wanted to be clear that he had no problems with a pathway to legalization in theory — but summed up the thoughts of many in the audience, who see the border as a profound and growing threat.

“A lot of these guys come over here and work for three or four years so they can send money back and build a house in Mexico. That’s fine,” he said, as the event’s primarily Hispanic kitchen workers filed out behind him. “But then there’s the cartels, Hezbollah and China. The Chinese do not like us much. We don’t know what these guys are doing over here.”

The small cadre of pro-reform activists who came to the town hall were largely undeterred by the tone of the meeting. Montserrat Garibay, a newly-minted American citizen and pre-K teacher in Austin, said she came to the meeting to voice concerns on behalf of her students, some of whom are American citizens with undocumented parents, and of her undocumented sister and father.

“I’m glad we came, even though mostly they weren’t allowing people of color to speak.” People at the meeting, she said, had been coming up to the activists, a mostly Latino bunch, and asking about their legal status.

“It’s heartbreaking—I mean, you heard the woman calling us cows,” she said. “But it’s important for us to be coming out and sharing our story, because if we don’t, they’ll tell our story for us.”

As the attendants filtered out, several people were discussing the prospect of a new congressman.

John Fulwiler said he had voted for Carter several times, but expressed his hope that his days in office were numbered.

“I voted for him, but honestly I hope he doesn’t run again,” he said. “I hope nobody runs again. We gotta start with a new batch of people.”

Christopher Hooks joined the Observer in 2014. Previously, he was a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

  • SoberMoney

    Good for Carter standing up to these Tea Party xenophobes.

    If this nation is going to get something done about sane immigration standards and the resulting economic solutions that will come from it, these Tea Party saboteurs need to be shut down and/or ignored. Even sane conservatives are tired of the politically insane Tea baggers.

    Besides, the Tea Party is totally ignorant about why the US is becoming a failed state. It’s failing because we now live in Wall Street-controlled corporate welfare police state. And it is run in alternating decade period by the entrenched two-party duopoly.

    Then again, If the Republican Party wants to ever have a shot at the White House again, they need to honestly and sincerely tell the Tea Party to get real – or get lost.

    • Another Wilco Voter

      “Judge” Carter doesn’t deserve any kudos. The guy has been a lousy Congressman as long as he has been in office; always pandering to the extreme right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve voted against him. “Standing up to the Tea Party xenophobes,” HA, HA. It’s about time he took a reasonable stand on an issue. The only reason he should stay in office is because Williamson County would probably elect someone even worse.

      • SoberMoney

        You sound like you know him better than I do. I stand corrected – about Carter (not the Tea Party).

      • melissap

        He has been an outstanding congressmen so how dare you say that. How dare you say that. He has done so much in getting funding for the troops. What, because you cant turn the constitution into what YOU want, hes bad. You probably have never studied the constitution ever. It was not created to be changed because YOU dont like it. If you dont like it, the run yourself.

        • Another Wilco Voter

          How dare I say that?? LOL! I believe the Constitution guarantees my 1st Amendment right to free speech.

    • TravisMonitor

      “sane immigration standards”
      Allow 1 million to come in and enforce the law seems sane. but we dont do the 2nd part of that. we have enough immigration.

      “Tea Party saboteurs need to be shut down and/or ignored”
      Aw, that pesky 1st amendment !

      “Besides, the Tea Party is totally ignorant about why the US is becoming a failed state.”
      (extremist declaration follows)

      “It’s failing because we now live in Wall Street-controlled corporate welfare police state.”

      …which wants illegal immigration. Why is that?

      Tea Party was spawned by opposition to the Wall Street bailouts and related ‘lets-not-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste’ antics. Your statements are not a far from their view as you think…

      “And it is run in alternating decades by the entrenched two-party duopoly.”

      Funny but you’ll get agreement from extremists on both ends of spectrum to that.

      PS. Obama is President. So by your theory Obama was appointed by
      someone on wall street. Rubin? Soros?

      • SoberMoney

        Travis, you are doing the black and white thinking thing.

        Obama WAS funded by Wall Street. The lie is that Romney was their man. Hell, Obama bailed out the banks, didn’t prosecute any of them, and gave a guaranteed income to insurance companies with the old RomneyCare act. Why would they kick Obama out for a white elitist weasel.

        And the original Tea Party leadership sold out to the Adelmans, Kochs and the elite right wing hate money quicker than Usain Bolt running the 100 meter dash. Don’t lie to yourself.

        The Tea Party still has their shameless panderers like Cruz, Paul, and Palin, but even the big money right wing knows they will never get back the White House with a Tea Party candidate.

        • SoberMoney

          I forgot these:

          1) the Tea Party has been shut down
          2) the first amendment is now mostly only a wet dream
          3) guns are the opium of the right wing masses.

          Anti-government militias against corporate government swat teams? Nothing but an NRA circle jerk.

          The entire foolishness of your comments, Travis, is that you probably believe governments control the private sector. Until you turn that around you will not understand what has become of this nation.

          • TravisMonitor

            The entire foolishness of your comments, Sober, is that you probably
            believe the private sector controls the government. Until you turn that
            around you will not understand what has become of this nation. :)

          • SoberMoney

            Your last comment shows the gullible right wing fool that you really are.

            Businesses are not victims of government; they are victims of their own incompetence, poor management , and mindless free markets rhetoric.

            I am a successful small business owner because I don’t rely on ignorant deregulation welfare or socially destructive tax reduction welfare to make money.

            Anyone in business who waits around for some fantasy libertarian state to be successful is playing the victim, and should take responsibility for their own success.

            It is shameful hypocrisy how you right wing anti-government supplicants always blame government – when what is really going on is not being smart or competent enough to run a business.

            Keep voting for your ignorant Republican politicians who play on your victim anger and shunning of personal responsibility.

          • TravisMonitor

            LOL, you really take yourself too seriously. Chill … quit jumping to condemning people so much and listen more, you might learn something.

    • melissap

      I agree. The tea party in my opinion are no better than the GOP and The Democrats. Just another group of angry selfish group who want to turn the Constitution to benefit them.

  • Fats

    “Stupid is as stupid does.”

  • WTofAustin

    Congrats to John Carter for holding firm on a reasonable solution to the issue of undocumented or illegal residents in our country. I got a kick, however, from the comment calling the Tea Party members totally ignorant saboteurs while claiming “we now live in Wall Street-controlled corporate welfare police state.” Will the extremes continue to move around in a circle and eventually meet?

    • SoberMoney

      The Tea Party is controlled by the “corporate welfare police state.” How could they be anything but – when they voted for Romney?

      And if you think these comments are “extremes” – you have no idea what is going on in this country. Stop watching cable TV news; and start reading the news.

  • Monica Guzmán

    Kudos to Montserrat and other friends present! I would have attended had it not been for schedule conflict.
    I dare any of those tea party nitwits to ask my legal status!

  • channelclemente

    Is this the issue, in the McClatchy piece about racial issues in Mexico, driving in some of the Texas, border confusion on immigration?

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/22/200057/for-dark-skinned-mexicans-taint.html#.UhgHw5KTiSo

  • TravisMonitor

    “The only reason we have mothers and fathers [in his plan] is because
    of Asians,” Carter said, to more shouts. “Asians have this mother and
    father thing.”

    I happen to know second-hand situation of an Asian elderly Dad here illegally (overstay visa) with his daughter. Oh and they are in Cedar Park. Heard of other cases like it. Its not hard to put grandpa or grandma up in your home when US doesnt do visa tracking.

    Maybe John Carter knows his district better than some folks think.

    As for:
    “We can track a cow from birth to slaughter,” he said. “Why can’t we track someone who’s overstayed their visa?”

    Of course we CAN, the powers that be WONT. The Cornyn (and Ted Cruz) amendments ( and other similar amendments) to have biometric visa tracking, just like keeping the successful EVerify system, keep magically failing to ‘make it’ into the bogusly misnamed ‘comprehensive’ reform legislation, that comprehensively fail to actually put the tools in place to properly enforce the law.
    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/senators-reject-biometric-visas-immigration-reform-184521049.html

    They should call it the “Comprehensive Keep Immigration More Broken Than Ever” law.

    • SoberMoney

      Xenophobia is not a solution for immigration reform.

  • radsenior

    It strikes me that future voters will be influenced greatly by parents, peers, preceptors(teachers), partners, preachers, priests and politicians. The very first level of influence are the parents. The greatest of influence in the formative years teach such things as hatred, bigotry, exclusion, segregation and bullying. A parents influence is greater than every other source. Preceptors(teacher-pedagog) are second. They have easily malleable young minds to nurture and set into patterns resembling what they want to produce. Peer influence comes in next, as these are the ones who can help mold the young mind. Following are party, passel, parcel and package or grouping of influence. Those associated with the young mind can further mold thoughts and actions into what we see today in America.
    Now, take into account the changing demograhics across the nation. The black population have worked tirelessly to solidify their vote nationally and in some states, but it’s at the local level where votes can be counted or dismissed through state legislation or Gerrymandering. This is why Texas is in the crosshairs of Democrats for future elections.
    People should be interested in getting deputized to register people to vote, getting registration forms, camping out at gatherings, grocery stores, churches and fire stations to raise the level of participation in the political arena. The 2014 Mid-term is a-coming! As is 2016, and 2018! V.O.T.E.(Vote Out The Encumberance) Sweep the states and Congress clean in 2014! YOUR VOTE ONLY COUNTS WHEN YOU VOTE!