Paxton Plays Victim at Potty Presser

The attorney general positioned himself as a bold opponent of Obummer. But it was Republicans who started this whole mess.

Ken Paxton
Patrick Michels
Attorney General Ken Paxton at the 2016 Texas GOP convention.

While Texas children are dying in foster care and our students struggle to excel in one of the worst-funded education systems in the country, Ken Paxton is playing potty police.

Wednesday, Texas and 10 other states joined to file a federal lawsuit against guidelines recently issued by the Obama administration advising schools not to discriminate against transgender children, or risk losing federal funding.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Paxton did all the usual yammering about mean ol’ Dictator Obama, and his mean ol’ meanie policies, dragging Texas into a fight it never asked for. Worse than that, really: Paxton said that wee tiny Harrold ISD, a district near Wichita Falls with an enrollment of just 100 students, is now “in the crosshairs of the Obama administration” because of its policy requiring students to use bathrooms according to their birth certificates. (Bet sorting that out really livens up the after-recess bathroom line.)

Harrold ISD passed its policy, which according to Paxton makes “accommodations for special circumstances on a case-by-case basis,” on Monday. That’s two days ago. The Obama administration issued its guidelines nearly two weeks ago.

Apparently one of President Obama’s many skills is oppressing people from the past, using time travel. What a mighty coincidence that, on May 23, Harrold ISD, which says it has no transgender students, decided to pass a papers-please bathroom policy that affects none of its students. And then on May 25, Harrold just happened to become the lead plaintiff in an 11-state federal lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that guidelines Obama issued before Harrold even had a bathroom policy violate Harrold’s right to have whatever non-existent policy it wanted, two weeks before.

When I pressed the Harrold ISD superintendent on the curious timing of the policy’s passage, he responded: “We passed the policy because we believe in it. We think it’s necessary to protect the security and safety and dignity of children.”

Well, speaking of security and safety — from what, exactly? At Wednesday’s presser, reporters put pressure on Paxton to cite any examples of transgender people of any age doing harm to others in public facilities. Because it would be impossible, even for a great legal mind like Paxton’s, to present evidence for something that doesn’t actually happen, the AG spun questions back to familiar territory: defending the Constitution, bad Barack Obama, the evil fed, etc.

In Paxton’s own mind, he’s clearly a fearless protector of the downtrodden, a brave opponent of despotic overreach, thrust unwittingly into battle. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick issued a press release supporting Paxton later in the afternoon, saying in part that “the Obama administration is trying to force an ill-advised, eleventh-hour bathroom edict on Texas and all American schools.”

It’s time someone popped a hole in that particular balloon. The question of who pees where, and who should be forced to pee where, was originally raised, in Texas, by Republican lawmakers. Every effort to poke around in people’s privates has been made, in recent years and months, by conservatives who proudly picked this fight.

Back in 2015, state Representative Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and state Representative Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, proposed four different bills that would dig into Texans’ and Texas kids’ pasts and pants to find out which parts they pee and poop with. Some of those bills actually put a $2,000 bounty on transgender people, monetarily rewarding anyone who reported a transgender person for using a bathroom that, in the reporter’s view, was not appropriate for their gender.

Those bills went nowhere. Then came the Houston fight over the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, HERO, a common-sense bundle of protections against discrimination in employment, public housing and other accommodations. It also protected veterans, pregnant people, people of color — a whole host of folks. HERO didn’t create defenses to prosecution for people who commit sexual assaults in bathrooms, it just gave people legal options if they found themselves discriminated against in public accommodations.

HERO went down in a ball of transmisogynistic flames, with voters falling for patriarchal fear-mongering perpetuated by — wait for it — right-wing leaders, Republicans and other hyper-conservatives crowing about “men in women’s restrooms,” who petitioned to repeal the ordinance as passed by City Hall. (That version didn’t even have gender identity protections in it!) They beat their drum of bullying bigotry only to strike down an ordinance that would have protected pregnant ladies from housing discrimination. The left didn’t start that fight.

In Rockwall, it was Republican mayor Jim Pruitt who brought a (failed) proposal to inspect people’s pants parts pre-peeing to the city council. When Fort Worth ISD set up a policy to protect trans kids — local control, what a thing! — it was Republican lite guv Dan Patrick who gloated his way into town to publicly chastise school officials and take the convenient opportunity to promote his own school reform policies as a solution.

We’re talking about years of potty policing from the political right, here. Obama popped in all of two weeks ago to issue some fairly standard Title IX guidelines about discrimination against schoolchildren.

No matter what Ken Paxton, or Dan Patrick, or that uncle who always e-mails you in all-caps Comic Sans says: this isn’t a fight the federal government started. It is a crusade of hate and ignorance orchestrated by conservatives desperate to distract taxpayers from real problems. Like, say, an attorney general fighting criminal felony securities fraud charges, or a foster care system where children are dying of abuse and neglect, or a school finance scheme that keeps the Texas’ poorest kids on the lowest rungs of the learning ladder.

Andrea Grimes, a native Texan and avid twitterer, is the digital editor at the Observer.

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Published at 4:18 pm CST