After Filibuster, Republicans Face Fact That Women Live in Texas

As the dust briefly settles on the Texas capitol, there is a lot of finger pointing among Republicans. They seem amazed that passage of perhaps the most draconian anti-abortion bill in the nation was blocked by a brilliant state senator, who, of all things, is a woman, and the apparent sentiment among large numbers of Texans that women—and not Rick Perry and not the Texas Legislature—should have the power to make the most critical decisions in their personal lives. It turns out a number of Texans feel strongly about that.

In all those Tea Party meetings and rallies the Republican leadership has been attending and stoking over the past few years, no one told them that running roughshod over the rights of women in Texas might not be a cakewalk. How did this go wrong?

In all those Tea Party rallies the Republican leadership has been attending and stoking over the past few years, no one told them running roughshod over the rights of women in Texas might not be a cakewalk. How did this go wrong?

Immediately out of the box leapt State Senator Dan Patrick, a venom-spewing former Houston area radio talk-show host. He denounced the failed leadership of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and announced that he would be challenging Dewhurst for the Lite Gov. Republican nomination in 2014. (Two other statewide officeholders had much earlier announced similar intentions.)

It is important to know that the Lt. Governor’s seat is traditionally regarded as the most powerful office in the state. A state constitution drawn up during the Texas populist revolt of the late 19th century attempted to make the governor’s office largely ceremonial and seat the real powers of lawmaking in the legislative bodies. That’s probably why Rick Perry seems so angry and frustrated all the time and spouts off a great deal in public. By controlling the legislative process in the state senate, the Lt. Governor effectively controls all legislation for the state. George Bush gained traction as governor because he let then-Lt. Governor Bob Bullock—a pro-business, Democratic, take-no-prisoners, political bully—adopt him and ram through legislation that Bush and Karl Rove dearly wanted.

Current Lt. Governor Dewhurst is an arrogant, aloof, very wealthy Houston businessman, who leaves the impression that he never wants to get his fingernails dirty running senate business. Contrast that with Bullock’s sheer joy in showing blood all over his hands from twisting arms that previously may not have twisted in those directions. As befits the impression that he has a George Hamilton-like dedication to avoiding work, Dewhurst has a seemingly permanent tan similar to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, only not so orange. His blandness contributed mightily to his defeat for a U.S. Senate nomination that has now given the world Ted Cruz.

So Patrick and others are furious that Dewhurst did not control the legislative process in such a way that State Senator Wendy Davis’s (pictured) filibuster would never have happened. And once it happened, they can’t figure out why he couldn’t corrupt the process enough for her to be pulled down well ahead of the midnight deadline for passage of legislation during the special session. They have a point. But in fairness to Dewhurst, he apparently can’t make strong decisions when he gets really nervous about riling the Tea Party right.

And he apparently has a real problem with strong women who oppose him. Two years ago, Davis necessitated a special session when she filibustered in this same Texas Senate against proposed cuts in the state’s public education funding. And Dewhurst’s failure to recess the Senate for a few hours on its last day, following tradition, to allow State Senator Leticia van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and colleagues to attend the funeral of her father, who had been killed in a car wreck, fanned the flames of the opposition. When Van De Putte, who returned for the vote, asked why the chair had would not recognize a woman to speak, that set off the eruption of reproductive rights proponents in the senate gallery.

The Republicans also denounced the “raucous crowd” in the capitol, saying it used “mob tactics” to make senate business impossible. As State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) pointed out, the senate gallery crowd was quiet and respectful until the senate leadership ignored its own rules of procedure in order to halt the filibuster in front of a gallery full of witnesses.

As is typical, a few fringe voices, such as the previously never encountered in the halls of the capitol International Socialist Organization and some career Occupiers, took credit for the outburst that ended the special session. And, as has usually happens, some news organizations, notably The Texas Tribune, were all too eager to give them credit.

It turns out women live in every district in Texas. It turns out Republican, Libertarian and unaligned women care about their own reproductive rights.

But anyone in the Senate gallery would have recognized the overwhelming majority as young, middle-aged, and elderly, women (for the most part) and men who have been working for reproductive rights and democratic rights in Texas for years. You can ask the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers stationed around the gallery for corroboration.

Rick Perry couldn’t stand not being in the limelight. Not only did he call a new special session to begin July 1, he said that Davis’ experience as a teen mother and as the daughter of a single mother should have taught her that the legislation reducing reproductive rights was necessary.

“What if her mother had said, ‘I just can’t do this?’” Perry asked the National Right to Life Convention. Davis responded that Perry’s reference to her personal life was “without dignity.” Planned Parenthood’s Cecil Richards said Perry’s remarks show why “politicians should not be involved in women’s personal health care decisions.”

The battle will be re-engaged on July 1. The Republicans will, no doubt, not wait until the end of the special session to bring a bill limiting reproductive rights for a final vote.

But it turns out women live in every district in Texas. It turns out that Republican, Libertarian and unaligned women also care about their own reproductive rights. It turns out that many men care about the rights of their wives, sisters and daughters. No matter the outcome of the coming special session, the stage has been set for new politics in Texas.

 

Geoff Rips, a former editor of the Texas Observer, is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator.