The Lesson of Lone Star Republicans

It seemed altogether fitting that on June 26 an African-American woman became the 500th person executed by the State of Texas since it resumed capital punishment in 1982. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, Texas leads the nation in official government executions. The next closest state is Virginia with 110. We practice barbarism in many forms.

Texas has become an object lesson for those wondering what happens if you take the policies of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and the NRA all the way to their logical conclusions. What you get is a purported democratic entity that—to paraphrase the old slogan from Another Mother for Peace—is not healthy for women and other living things, unless they are wealthy white males ruling the gated communities of their lives.

Texas has become an object lesson for those wondering what happens if you take the policies of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and the NRA all the way to their logical conclusions.

That’s why the fight against the anti-abortion bill in Texas is so important for the rest of the nation. “Beware,” the signs should read at our borders. “We are what you could become.” Or as the late Molly Ivins warned, “Texas is the national laboratory for bad government.”

Two weeks prior to the 500th execution, Perry vetoed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay legislation passed by the conservative Texas Legislature. Clearly, he’s got a thing about women. As a state, we’ve been down so long politically that no one talks any longer about the irony of a state leadership that rants about the lives of the unborn but doesn’t give a hoot about the lives of the born. Not only are we putting adults to death at a breakneck (almost literally) pace, our governor and Republican legislators refuse to take federal money for expanded Medicaid, which would provide comprehensive health care for children born into poverty. Children apparently serve no useful political purpose for these Republicans.

In the same month, like the Prince of Darkness handing out party invitations to the Underworld, Perry spent part of June visiting gun manufacturers in Connecticut, a state still reeling from the gun murders of 26 Sandy Hook students and teachers half a year earlier, enticing the gun makers to move their plants to Texas, a state with the second highest number of gun murders per year. His message: no state income tax, low corporate taxes, little regulation, and we love guns. And don’t forget the markets: we’re not talking about filling empty gun racks in pickup trucks; we’re talking about Texas being the leading exporter of guns to Mexico. Looks like Perry can two-step the Danse Macabre.

Not only could you not find increased gun control passing the Texas Legislature in the wake of Sandy Hook, you would instead find bills to make it easier for teachers, college students, and parents to go to school packing. Perry may be all hat and no cattle, but he’s not all hat and no gun. He claimed to have smoked a ferocious coyote while jogging.

As State Senator Wendy Davis explained to Rachel Maddow, the lack of judicial oversight for drawing Texas election districts leads to gerrymandering intended to produce Republican officeholder majorities and elections entirely determined in Republican primaries. Those red primaries become referenda on who is most nuttily right-wing and can win the Koch brothers/Tea Party vote. These guys (predominantly) see passing legislation that threatens women’s well-being and allows the state to become an armed camp as their ticket to re-election. Shameful. And it may be coming to a state near you.

Fortunately, growing up in this environment has created generations of strong women. The state’s first woman governor, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, elected in 1924, didn’t much like the teaching of evolution, but she pushed “anti-mask” legislation to help close down the Klan in Texas. Emma Tenayuca led major labor strikes in the 1930s. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan became the voice of the U.S. Constitution during the Watergate hearings. Then there’s Ann Richards, who must have scared the boots off Rick Perry. She was elected governor in a moment much like the current situation, when her Republican opponent compared Texas weather to rape. “If it’s inevitable,” he said, “just relax and enjoy it.” Hearing that, Texas women of all political stripes rose up and carried Ann to office. Now Wendy Davis is seizing a similar, if more dangerous, political moment.

With the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas Republican leadership is trying to put a barbed wire fence around their power base before Hispanic growth and women’s anger reach full voting strength. Tom DeLay got into trouble because he was a little too eager. The Republican leaders are playing dirty because they fear they may be a little too late.


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


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