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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Friday, May 31, 2013

SINE DIE 83RD LEGISLATURE.... OH WAIT





Another session of the Texas Legislature is in the books and for the most part it was quite compared to the 82nd Legislature which saw the enactment of the Vaginal Ultrasound Bill, the gutting of education, and the redistricting nightmare that created some odd shaped districts. The redistricting efforts of the previous legislature has consequences as it delayed the primary from its original March date to May. That delay allowed the Tea Party element in the Republican Party to organize around  Ted Cruz and force Lt. Governor David Dewhurst into a runoff where he lost to the now-Senator Ted Cruz.

For the most part, the 83rd Legislature was fairly uneventful and calm compared to the last session. Some of the highlights are as follows:

You had your rallies such as the one for education and in support for Planned Parenthood. LGBT Rights activists from across the state (including yours truly) attended Equality Texas's Lobby Day. It wasn't the only LGBT event at the capitol as anti-equality and pro-equality advocates held competing rallies as the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments concerning Prop 8 and DOMA. Then there were these events between gun law reformers and those who oppose any proposed changes.

The Texas Tribune noted that the Texas House was less combative as it was to the previous session. In part it was due to Republicans losing some strength in that chamber and them recognizing the results from the 2012 Presidential Election, and in state level governance there are better chances for bi-partisanship. Even though Republicans hold a sizable majority in both chambers (House 95-55, Senate 19-12), it wasn't the super strong Tea that was present in the 82nd.

A victory for women happened when not a single one of Texas Republicans' 24 anti-choice bills advanced to the House floor. In part this was again due to what happened nationally, but also Texas Democrats were able to mobilize women (and some men) to take on this issue. State Senator Wendy Davis (D, SD-10) has been a vocal advocate in protecting Texas women's health.

Equality Texas is calling the 83rd Session an "enormous success" as they were able to champion LGBT causes and fight back some of the discriminatory policies proposed by conservative politicians. I credit Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D, HD-75) with her presence in The Lege to advocate that those discriminatory policies hurt people like herself. I also credit Mr. Daniel Williams, Equality Texas's field organizer, for keeping people informed about the going-ons in Austin.

There was also this exchange on twitter between Rep. Matt Krause (R, HD-93) and a person who described himself as a "voter, constituent, and gay" after the representative snuck in an anti-gay measure into a larger bill. The good news is that the measure died in The Lege.

And I think I heard a loud cheer coming from Houston among hearing that a transphobic and rather stupid proposal that would prohibit any person from obtaining a marriage license without a photo I.D. died in committee. One of the sponsors of this bill is my senator, Jane Nelson (R, SD-12).

Other big ticket items was that Democrats were able to fight for was a restoration of some of the $5.4 billion in education cuts that happened last session. State Senators Wendy Davis (there's that name again...) and Sylvia Garcia (D, SD-6) and San Antonio Rep. Mike Villarreal (D, HD- 123). While there are programs at the national level, Texas is doing what they can to help veterans (like myself) ease their transition back to the civilian sector. One of the programs is to make the licensing process easier for veterans who have skills from the military that translate to the civilian sector. Others is strengthening the Hazelwood program and allow veterans to apply for low-interest home mortgage loans and down payment assistance.

The only drama was around the vote to continue the Texas Lottery. At first the State House voted 81-65 to discontinue it... that is until they realized that the lottery covers some of the education bills. The vote was 110-37 in favor of supporting it.

An unnamed observer of what happens at The Lege explained to me this way: say I give you a box and you tell me you don't want it. I take the box away and then I mention that the box has $2 billion in it. I ask you if you want the box....

And apparently six Tarrant County Republican legislators (Capriglione of Southlake, Stickland of Bedford, Zedler of Arlington, and Goldman, Klick, and Krause of Fort Worth) don't want the box with $2 billion in it. Idiots.

There were some issues that the legislature needed to tackle such as water issues considering that even though we are moving towards a highly urbanized state our state's economy is dependent on agriculture and basic biology teaches us that people need water to live. Maybe the state will table it for the next session or use a special session to address that issue and many other pressing issues (such as Medicare Expansion, roads)...

Right....?

Um.......

Nope

Instead Governor Perry in his infinite wisdom has called on a special session to tackle the issue of redistricting.

So far it appears that is the only issue they are tackling. There might be more special sessions to push the radical Tea Party agenda so I am paying close attention to what is going on.

In the 82nd session, redistricting was classified so FUBAR that the courts had to intervene because the maps were so jacked up and it pushed Texas's scheduled primary from March until May. It had an impact on the Republican Primary that bought Tea Party activists time to organize and rally their favorite candidates to victory.

To be honest, my level of knowledge (LOK) is very low on the topic. However.... here is someone who knows a lot about it. Michael Li writes an excellent blog that explains what is going on with Texas Redistricting. I HIGHLY recommend that you bookmark his website and follow him on twitter.

For now it appears that The Lege is going to look at congressional and state house districts. Texas has 36 congressional districts and 150 state house districts. There are many ways how you can divide Texas up among legislative boundaries, but there are rules you have to follow when you do it such as the boundaries must be continuous, they have to have a relatively equal amount of population, and some states such as Texas are subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (there is a case before SCOUTS challenging this provision). It is unknown if the 31 state senate districts will be up for being redrawn. Again, they are subject to the same rules as the congressional and state house districts.

Honestly, I should have seen this coming. Maybe I was blinded that this was a quiet session. There is always talk of special session every year in The Lege; sometimes it happens, others not. Looking back though.... well, here is a quote that stood out when a Tea Party backed Republican in the Metroplex was asked about his experience as a freshman legislator:

"We haven’t had any pro-life legislation, we haven’t had any immigration legislation, and we’ve spent a whole bunch of money. So I think they would count that as a victory. What Democrats have done best is identify liberal Republicans and have gotten them on board with a bunch of their agenda."
- State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (Dropout R HD-92), 20 May 2013 interview with Fort Worth Star-Telegram

You know.... I thought I would never say this, but State Rep. Stickland is correct.




Well... a broken 24-hour clock is correct once a day.




But yes, he is correct in that a lot of conciliatory and fairly agreeable legislation was passed in the 83rd. For the MOST part The Lege avoided hot button issues. That was until the NRA held its annual convention in Houston early in May and Republicans were salivating at pushing through as many pro-gun bills as possible in order to please them. The State House revived the open carry bill (HB 972) which would allow students with a Concealed Handgun License (CHL) to carry a handgun on their person on a college campus. A compromise was reached that would allow students to carry on campus as long as the weapon is secured in their vehicle.

See... State Rep. Stickland has a problem.. well... he has several such as being voted as one the Worst 5 legislators according to Texas Tribune readers and other issues that are documented here (being a Ron/Rand Paul crank, his feelings on disaster relief, why he shouldn't have to pay taxes because his children don't go to the school system, etc.)

Anyways...

State Rep. Stickland has a problem. He authored 11 bills in the House including the controversial HB 649, The Hobby Lobby Bill which would give companies a tax break for denying their female employees birth control coverage.

How many of Stickland's bills passed?



According to the Star-Telegram's Bud Kennedy, a big fat round ZERO.

Stickland came in saying that he was going to be the most conservative voter in the House and that is all fine and dandy. Stickland and other Republicans know they have to satisfy a very rabid base of voters with something (as he stated: pro-life and immigration) or else he will be back doing whatever he was doing before he was elected. And I suspect that it wasn't much.

This special session is nothing more than an opportunity for the very vocal minority of Tea Party Republicans to push forward their agenda and to prevent some legislators from seeing a formidable primary challenger in 2014. State level Republicans know they are going to get hammered on issues such as the budget and not pushing enough of an extreme agenda by their base. Governor Perry knows this too as he is weighing his options on whether he will run for re-election next year. The latest polling shows that the governor is the favorite to win the Republican nomination over Attorney General Greg Abbott who has expressed some interest in the race though there is sentiment among Republicans that it's time for Perry to step out of the spotlight.

The special session should be utilized to focus on the tangible and real issues such as repairing our roads, participating in Medicaid expansion, solving our water issues, improving voter turnout, and other problems that exists with the budget. What the Texas Legislature is involved in is nothing more than political gamesmanship. These redistricting efforts and overall attack on voting rights might serve as a short term victory for Republicans in Texas, but as The Hill put it bluntly:
"(This effort) insults the intelligence, dignity and interests of Hispanic, black and all voters who want to be respected as equal citizens under law, and not abused like the disappeared during the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile."
Though the comparisons to Augusto Pinochet's regime in Chile is extremely inflammatory and offensive to those that suffered under his brutal 16-1/2 year rule, these redistricting efforts further marginalizes specific voting groups leading to Texas becoming like a Banana Republic where the democratic process is not only subverted, but highly perverted in order to give one political party a manufactured inflated advantage and depresses opposition voters.


The efforts in The Lege have national implications. As shown in the last presidential election, Republicans cannot win on their ideas. In 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, the Republican candidate has not won the popular vote. The last Republican to win more than 300 electoral votes was George H.W. Bush in 1988 when he amassed 426 electoral votes.

Even though the Republicans hold the most seats in the House, they did it by losing the popular vote by a little more than 1.4 million votes. Texas, like most states, delegate the authority of redistricting after the decennial Census to their State Legislature so the boundaries are drawn on the whims on whatever political party is in charge. As shown in 2010, Republicans made gains not just in the House but also at the state level by taking control of a record number of state legislatures not seen in generations and in some cases (like Texas) having control of both chambers AND the governor's mansion (or in our case, the governor's house in an Austin suburbangated community).


John Boehner should thank Gerrymandering on why he's still holding the Speaker's gavel.



Analysis of the 2012 House elections shows that the only way Democrats could get a majority was to win the House popular vote by more than 7 percentage points and they would hold a slim majority of 5 seats. To put into perspective, Republicans won the 2010 House popular vote by 6.8 points and commanded a 242-193 seat advantage.

So instead of trying to discover better ideas to make their party a bigger tent, Republicans are trying to win the only way they know how: cheat.

This special session on redistricting could finally be the tipping point that pushes Texas from a Republican stronghold to finally a state in play in the presidential election of 2016 and beyond.

State Senator Davis put it best when asked about this special session:



And sadly, that is what we have.

"Business as usual."


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