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A House Divided

The country’s sharp divisions on immigration surface in the Texas House on its first big day.

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Bob Daemmrich

It should have been an easy day in the Texas House. We’re only seven weeks into the session—well within the honeymoon period when lawmakers are still spending most of their time passing commemorative resolutions and praising each other’s leadership. In fact, Wednesday marked the full House’s first significant legislating, and the two bills on the agenda couldn’t have been less controversial: widely supported proposals to reform the troubled Child Protective Services department.

So it was rather surprising to see the debate devolve into bitter accusations of racism and hypocrisy.

It all started innocently enough. The bills in question—House Bill 4 and House Bill 5—would allow payments to family members who take in foster kids and separate the Department of Family and Protective Services—which includes CPS—into a stand-alone agency. There was no serious opposition to either bill. Some House members wanted to increase the amount of money that family members could receive—an exchange that featured Jonathan Stickland, a tea party Republican from Bedford, actually advocating for more state spending for the first time, well, ever. A compromise was quickly forged. Everyone seemed to agree that foster kids are better off when placed with responsible family members and that those family members should be paid a reasonable amount by the state for doing so (they’re currently not).

Everything was going swimmingly until Mark Keough, a second-term Republican from The Woodlands, offered an amendment to HB 4 that would have barred CPS payments to any caregivers who are undocumented immigrants. Keough is a pastor who left his career as a car salesman to found his own ministry. His proposal suddenly put the House in tense, late-session form, and he seemed to know it. “I know many of you feel this is a bad [amendment],” he said. “But I think this [amendment] is on the side of virtue.”

Democrats lined up at the back mic to attack him. Dallas’s Rafael Anchia wasted no time cutting to the bone. Why, he asked, would Keough want to punish vulnerable kids because their relatives had crossed into the country illegally, an act the kids had nothing to do with. “You’re trying to conflate children in need with lawbreakers,” Anchia said.

Keough responded that it was important to uphold the laws of the nation. And from there, a debate that had been about helping abused kids morphed into a fierce argument over immigration.

Gene Wu offered what he described as a “compromise” that actually gutted Keough’s proposal, but Keough accepted it anyway. Still, Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio was incredulous that Wu, his fellow Democrat, would even attempt a settlement. “I don’t think you can find a middle ground to hatred,” he told Wu from the back mic. “I don’t think you can find a middle ground to racism.”

Even with the proposal effectively gutted, Anchia took the front mic to rail against it—and the man who authored it. “This feels really racist,” he said. “If we’re starting like this, what the hell is the rest of the session going to be like?”

“These kids—you’re using them as a prop so you can go home [at election time] and beat your chest about immigration,” Anchia said, adding that Latino lawmakers were getting tired of it. And if it continued, he warned, if the House was going to debate tough immigration policy and sanctuary cities, then some Democrats would bring up “sanctuary businesses” that use undocumented workers. He once again called the proposal racist and wondered whether Keough had ever sold cars to undocumented immigrants or used undocumented workers in his business career. It sounded more like a Twitter rant than a House floor speech and prompted Speaker Joe Straus to remind members from the dais that they should stick to discussing the policy at hand.

A clearly emotional Byron Cook then came to the front mic. “I’m broken-hearted,” the Corsicana Republican said. Nothing good was going to come from the amendment, he said. “We can do better.”

When Keough returned to the podium, he had a softer tone. “I’m not a racist,” he said. “I love people. I love the people of my church. And I love all of you.”

If you’ve seen enough heated debates under Straus’s speakership, you could predict that Keough would be talked into withdrawing his amendment, and that’s what happened. Tempers cooled, everyone complimented each other, and the bill passed 145-0.

But this debate may have set a nasty tone for the session. It’s rather unusual to see this kind of animosity on the House floor on March 1, before lawmakers have really even done anything, and it could get worse. Some of the comments made today won’t soon be forgotten.

The deep divisions in the state and the country are seemingly having an effect on the Legislature. Based on what happened Wednesday, the first legislative session in the Donald Trump era could be a nasty, divisive one.

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  • WUSRPH

    It probably didn’t help that just the night before Trump was stirring up the WALL and Alien murderers and his new plan to set up a register of alien criminal acts……I wonder if jaywalking and parking meter fines will get you listed?

    Speaking of THE “SOON” to be Wall, I posted an item from the Hill on the prior thread reporting that they have scrapped the bottom of the bucket at DHS and come up with $20 million that could be used for the WALL. That leaves them only $21,580,000,000.00 short of the current estimate of the cost of building it without a new congressional appropriation.

    • José

      Million? Did you say $20 million? Not billion? Why that wouldn’t even pay for a Benghazi committee these days.

  • John Bernard Books

    Dems love Joe Straus, what does that tell you.
    They can’t get anyone elected so they have to suck up to Straus massaging his needy ego… https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/57bf7e7f3c79858ffdccc35bb72d3a7f244258595a5f37fea4c273d4cc6238be.jpg

    • roadgeek

      I thought it was a great speech, by the way. Someone has called it a “base-clearing home run”.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Who exactly is “someone”?

        • roadgeek

          Scotts Adams, the cartoonist who draws “Dilbert”. He also blogs, and called the election of Trump as early as the middle of last summer.

          http://blog.dilbert.com/post/157865134106/president-trumps-speech-last-night

          • jammerjim

            Adams also said he feared getting killed by Hillary supporters. The guy has gotten bizarre and bitter over the last 5 years or so.

          • roadgeek

            Given what transpired last month at Berkeley, his alma mater, who’d blame him? Bizarre, maybe; some of his ideas are quite off-the-wall. Bitter? Not that I can see.

          • anonyfool

            Michael Moore called the GOP primary correctly early, and he called the presidential election in July and the sure thing states that Hillary didn’t even campaign in as part of her downfall http://michaelmoore.com/trumpwillwin/
            So that’s not really a sure thing as a marker of being correct on anything else.

          • roadgeek

            As you wish. You are free to ignore Adams, his books, comic strip, blog and public appearances if you like. Just as I do Moore. (Although “Roger and Me” was great, and fine filmmaking.)

    • Asher B. Garber

      More like, Tea Partiers hate Joe Strauss. What does that tell you? That he’s a RINO because the most unhinged, most racist, most ignorant, and most definitely, the most pathetic portion of the Right Wing in America, the ones who now think they have a special mandate because their candidate got more than 3 million less votes than his opponent and still won the presidency, say so?

      But back to the State of Texas. Joe Strauss is what’s saving us from being the most backasswards state in a Union that still includes Mississippi.

      • Sundial

        Joe Straus is a rare voice of sanity in Texas politics. Its no wonder the Tea Party has tried to oust him as speaker no less than 4 times, not including their attempts to primary him.

  • Danny Jensen

    Sorry Straus won 150 to 0. It’s not just Ds that like him. It was a bad day for the House that turned into a good one. Bottom line was and is kids. Kids that need help. The House came together to agree to that, don’t blame the kids for their situation. Proud of that decision.

    • WUSRPH

      But the real test will be how much money and how many more people they put into the field. Passing a law, that is inadequately funded is not that uncommon. It allows some to claim they did good, while ignoring the reality that that often costs money.

      • anonyfool

        Isn’t that the issue with the entire K-12 education system in Texas? 🙂 “We don’t have income tax, so there!”

        • WUSRPH

          We don’t have a meaningful “general business tax” either and will soon have less and less of one until its gone for good. We know who to tax in Texas—consumers!

          • WUSRPH

            And we will have even less taxes on business should a little old constitutional amendment by Rep. Workman, Travis counties only GOPer, were to pass. It would remove billions of taxable property from the tax rolls of school districts by phasing out the tax on business “inventories” over a 10-year period. Of course, Workman does not say where he would get the money to replace the lost revenues, but then maybe he doesn’t intend to.

  • Kenneth Wilson

    I see the author conveniently left out Stickland’s “If the shoe fits!” yelled across the chamber at Anchia. That was completely uncalled for.

    (Scrub to 4:43) http://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=39&clip_id=12815

    • SpiritofPearl

      Stickland is not the best that Texas has to offer.

    • Dave Mann

      Nothing convenient about it. It was a long debate. No way to
      include everything. I agree with you about Stickland’s remark, but in
      fairness, Anchia called him out too from the mic. A lot of actions were
      uncalled for yesterday. I thought it was a
      shocking level of animosity on the floor this early in the session. I
      don’t ever remember seeing that kind of nastiness in the first two months—even when Patrick ditched the two-thirds rule
      two years ago. And I think it’s clearly a reflection of what’s
      happening in the country.

      • Kenneth Wilson

        Good point. I failed to acknowledge that at least you covered it. Thank you.

  • John Bernard Books

    Can Obama completely destroy the democrat party…
    “Obama’s goal, according to a close family friend, is to oust Trump from the presidency either by forcing his resignation or through his impeachment.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4271412/Obama-confidante-Valerie-Jarrett-moves-Kaloroma-home.html#ixzz4aATvR1y5
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook”

    si se peude…..

    • John Davis

      He isn’t President now. He left in January.

  • John Bernard Books

    When did dems become so anti-American….
    “Barack Obama is turning his new home in the posh Kalorama section of the nation’s capital – just two miles away from the White House – into the nerve center of the mounting insurgency against his successor, President Donald J. Trump.
    Obama’s goal, according to a close family friend, is to oust Trump from the presidency either by forcing his resignation or through his impeachment.
    And Obama is being aided in his political crusade by his longtime consigliere, Valerie Jarrett, who has moved into the 8,200-square-foot, $5.3-million Kaloroma mansion with the former president and Michelle Obama, long time best friends.”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4271412/Obama-confidante-Valerie-Jarrett-moves-Kaloroma-home.html#ixzz4aAkGbRDE
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook”

    Definition of sedition
    : incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.
    We know what the Obama admin did to America and the dem party…..how far are they willing to go? break out the pop corn….

  • J D

    Keough should be in Congress not in Austin. Immigration has no place in State politics. These GOP lawmakers will soon be in the minority party or non super majority status and a Democrat veto’s many bills that make no sense and no override status that would put the GOP in its proper place called they don’t run everything. I see Straus being defeated and Lyle Larson going out with him and also 10 other Republicans going out the door as well turning the entire Dallas Delegation into Democratic Hands and Harris County Delegation being closer to entirely of Democrats. So for 8 to 14 years the GOP if they are lucky to still run the legislature they will start acting like adults instead of screaming kids. Every Key city including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston will not have 1 Republican elected to Austin.

    • donuthin2

      No, he should not be in Congress. He should be at home taking care of his flock.

  • WUSRPH

    I kind of wish they have taken a vote on the amendment. It would have given some insight into who are the hardest core anti-immigrants….but, of course, many who feel that way probably wouldn’t have voted their true feelings on an amendment that was obviously not going to pass and on which the Speaker would probably been taking names.

  • WUSRPH

    Legislators—and the lobbyists who work the legislature—are strong believers in the old saying: If you don’t succeed the first time, try again or the one about there are several ways to skin a cat…..and that may be the case with a bill laid out by a group of House GOPers today that takes an alternative approach to putting state money into private schools.

    The bill, HB 1335, is much more limited than the general “vouchers bill” that the House Ed Chair has declared DEAD in that it says it is limited to children “with special needs and other educational disadvantages” rather than being open to all students like the other voucher bill discussed in this thread. It is also not that new of an idea as I think it would also filed last session. These children—-and it includes victims of sexual trafficking, one of the sessions’ hot topics, in the group it would aid—often find it difficult to get the special attention they need in the regular public schools. This program could provide an alternative for their needs.

    But what makes the bill potentially important is that it could well serve as the kind of “foot in the door” to vouchers I talked about in an earlier post on this thread by establishing a voucher program, even if a limited one. Having gotten even this much in the statute books might make it easier to expand the program in future sessions.

    An interesting aspect to the bill is that, although it talks about public schools, is that the bill also includes the backdoor provisions that would allow state dollars to go to the “for profit” post-high school vocational and trade schools included in the larger voucher bill. I do not know the identify of the lobbyist for these for-profit institutions, but whomever it is, they are certainly earning whatever the for profit schools are paying.

  • WUSRPH

    If you haven’t heard, Tuesday is going to be one of those great “red meat” issues day in the Texas Senate with a senate committee taking up Lt. Gov. Patrick’s “bathroom bill”. The hearing is set to begin at 8 am and may well feature a series of witnesses testifying about the danger hairy-legged men in dresses present to little girls in public bathrooms.

    It is Patrick’s real red meat issue for this session since last sessions “same-sex” marriage issue seems to have cooled down. But, being Patrick, he has to have one of these defenses of the moral order each session in order to sharpen his image as the most moral man in Texas. (But don’t think he’s forgotten same-sex marriage as a red meat issue. Several legislators are pushing “religious freedom” measures that will add some more heat to that cooling issue.)

    P.S. If he bill passes, I am still planning to start a campaign to post a “Dan Patrick is Watching” poster in every
    every public bathroom in the state. It is the least we can do to help (sic) his career.

    Speaking of that, I suppose you saw that Mike Collier announced that he is going to run against Patrick next year. He ran for Comptroller last time. I did a little pro-bono briefing work for his last campaign so I guess I’ll offer him whatever I can this time too. He would be a rarity in that race—a qualified candidate whose concern would be running an efficient state government. I doubt he’ll throw a single piece of red meat to anyone during the campaign. I just wish he had a better chance of winning…..but sometimes you got to go with the best person whether you think they can win or not.

  • WUSRPH

    Do you think anyone has told Perry that, now that he is a secretary, it doesn’t mean he has to get the coffee? With as little as he knew about the Dept. of Energy when he wanted to abolish it, it might be helpful if his briefing gets down to that level. I won’t want him to go to his first Cabinet meeting and asked everyone whether they wanted coffee or tea.

    • John Bernard Books

      How many coffees have you fetched my irrelevant dem friend….

      • John Johnson

        We all know the answer. He was his whipping boy.

  • WUSRPH

    Little things that may say a lot: Estonia is teaching its people guerilla war techniques, Sweden is bringing back the draft….wonder what these moves have in common other than they are both Baltic states? Could it be that they are not sure that Trump will do more than protest if the Russian bear starts moving their way?

    • John Johnson

      I think they got the message. The US is their ally, not their keeper.

      • BCinBCS

        My neighbor and I are the same way, JJ. If his house caught fire, I would feel bad for him but I wouldn’t rescue him from the building, give him a place to stay or help him rebuild.
        (What’s a friend, a neighbor and a Christian supposed to do, I’m not his keeper?)

        • John Johnson

          Whaaat??? Total jibberish.

          If my house had fire alarms, was built to fire code, and and the like, am I responsible for supplying his fire alarms, paying to have his house brought up to code, and chopping down the brush surrounding his home while he sits back and drinks beer? If his house catches on fire, I will pull my hose out, supply my water and do all I can to put the fire out, but that is where it ends.

          It sounds like you think we should treat them like we would one of our spoiled children living next door to us. Pay for everything and do too much for them because we have the $ to do so. Tough love, Goofy…time for tough love.

          • BCinBCS

            And if they supplied their own fire alarms, paid to have their house brought up to code, and chopped down the brush surrounding their home and it still caught fire, you’d stand by and watch it burn because you are their neighbor, not their keeper.

          • John Johnson

            You OK???

      • WUSRPH

        No, the only reality when you are a tiny nation on the Baltic like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia who has TWICE been conquered and subjugated by Russia (Soviet Union) in the last 80 years and had many thousands of your citizens murdered or imprisoned by Russia, is not an ALLY but a PROTECTOR. There is no way they could spend enough–absent developing nuclear weapons–to be able to do more to a Russian invasion than swat at it. They have as much chance as Kuwait had against Iraq or Denmark against the Germans in May of 1940. Their ONLY guarantee to keep their freedom both literally and figuratively is the shield offered by NATO (meaning the US). This is also their only hope to avoid being forced into a subordinate economic and political position by Russia. To expect much more of them they are now doing is to ask the impossible. What they fear is that Trump will stand by doing nothing while the Russians lean all over them…After all, Russia is stronger than they are and thus, in the world of Trumpism, has a right to dominate them. Sweden is a little different as it was and is official Neutral and is not a member of NATO. It was able to stay officially “neutral” in both WW I and II (by trading with the Germans) and has spent many millions over the years developing its own defense industries, etc. (Makes a nice aircraft called the Griffon these days) but even it could do little if leaned upon by the Russians but look for help elsewhere. The fact that it feels compelled at this time to reinstate the draft should tell you something about the level of fear and uncertainty that Donald (“we will only defend them if it is worth our while” is what he said about the three Baltic states.) has created in that important part of the world.

        • John Johnson

          Another pedant post. Were you graded in school by how many words you could put on paper while in school?

          Why are you just railing about our not supporting the Baltic region as you think we should? How about the poor people in places like the Republic of Congo who are being decimated? What about the Sudanese? Is it simply all political with you?

          All Trump has been saying is “take care of our own first”. Have you heard something different?

          You used to post thoughtful, contemplative positions. No so much recently. What’s the deal?

          I think you are suffering from your poor prognostications over the last several years, and your gal’s defeat. I can understand how that might have taken a toll on you. I encourage you to get over it.

          • WUSRPH

            Of course I am concerned about what is going on in the Congo and Sudan AND Myanmar and many places. But this was about what is going on in the Baltic. One more difference, we have pledged our sacred honor and word to consider an attack on L-E-L as an attack on ourselves. To a man with any honor, that should make a difference. But that requires principles and a philosophical framework of beliefs, none of which Trump has demonstrated beyond a raw attraction to force and power.

          • John Johnson

            More of the same from you.

            You are speculating; you are prognosticating. You are terrible at it.

            If anyone makes a move on an ally under Trump, I will prognosticate that they will be sorry they did so…unlike the bogus line in the sand threat, and the Russians invasion of the Ukraine and shooting down one of their passenger jets. Crickets.

          • BCinBCS

            So you think that it is good policy to tell your global rival that you won’t defend a country unless it is “worth” the effort, essentially inviting them to conquer that country, as they had done repeatedly in the past, and then make them “be sorry” by closing the barn door after the horses are out? It’s good that you chose catering rather than diplomacy as your vocation.

          • John Johnson

            You posts become more and more detached. Seek help.

          • WUSRPH

            The Russians are paying a heavy price in sanctions for what they did in the Crimea and the Ukraine—sanctions they want their good friend The Donald to drop or lighten. He probably hoped to be able to do so when he meets Putin in the near future after they signed an extension of the START Treaty for another five years and cut the number of allowed warheads by a few hundred—something he could claim as a great achievement in nuclear diplomacy. But he probably will have to wait now, both because of the Russian issue here and the fact that our European allies said they would keep the sanctions even if we didn’t.

  • WUSRPH

    Another Senate hearing of notice for Monday—-this one on a more serious, but less red meat issue—-leave policy of state agencies. It is supposed to fix the situation where certain agencies (say Atty. Gen. Paxton and Land Commissioner Bush) used extended leave to pay employees long after they had been let go. Some folks said they were buying silence (especially at the Land Commission where the employee getting this extra benefit had to sign a non-disclosure agreement)….It will be interesting to compare the turnout with that at Patrick’s bathroom bill.

  • WUSRPH

    Speaking about “little things” and how they can be used as a method of sending a message (friendly or hostile) to another, the US may have done that this week when it denied visas to a group of girl soccer players from India.

    You might remember back when President-elect Trump was poking the Chinese every other day, I talked about how China could make its unhappiness with the treatment known by a few little gestures—like flying a
    bomber over the South China Sea area it disputes with this neighbors or maybe slowing down the handling of US imports, etc.……all standard type diplomatic moves that one nation uses to signal another. Such little steps can also be used to curry favor with the other party. (Trump, of course, has been trying to make up for his prior behavior toward China ever since he took office.)

    It seems someone in Washington at the State Dept. he appears to despise so much may have made such a small friendly gesture toward China this week At least that I how I see the State Department’s refusal this week to grant visas to a group of teenage girls who want to come to Dallas to participate in a soccer tournament. The problem was that the girls all live in India but claim to be “Tibetan Girls’ Soccer Team” and wanted to participate under that title. Several of them, are, in fact, the children of refugees from Tibet and this is what created a small problem for the US. You see the Chinese claim that Tibet is an integral part of China and would not have been particularly pleased that a group of Tibetans living in India was claiming some at least semi-official status of representing Tibet. By denying the girls visas, we are quietly saying: See, China we recognize your position and the sensitivity of the situation,

    (BYW, you do know that, despite those bumper stickers you see saying “Free Tibet”, the US has officially recognized Tibet as being part of China since the mid-1940s.)

    • John Johnson

      Hard working families cannot afford health insurance vs the girls soccer team not being able to fly in here. Please quit filling up this blog with your blather. As I have suggested before, why don’t you start your own blog?

      • BCinBCS

        Or, conversely, you could simply quit reading and complaining about his comments and let the rest of us enjoy what he writes about history and politics.

        • John Johnson

          Or you could block me…which would be wonderful.

  • John Bernard Books

    snowflakie is always telling us about the horrors of Catholic schools…..little did we know
    “A ten-year-old boy was failing math. His parents tried everything from tutors to hypnosis; but to no avail. Finally, at the insistence of a family friend, they decided to enroll their son in a private Catholic school.
    After the first day, the boy’s parents were surprised when he walked in after school with a stern, focused and very determined expression on his face. He went straight past them, right to his room and quietly closed the door.
    For nearly two hours he toiled away in his room with math books strewn about his desk and the surrounding floor. He emerged long enough to eat, and after quickly cleaning his plate, went straight back to his room, closed the door, and worked feverishly at his studies until bedtime.”
    This pattern of behavior continued until it was time for the first quarter’s report card. The boy walked in with it unopened, laid it on the dinner table and went straight to his room.
    Cautiously, his mother opened it and, to her amazement, she saw a large red ‘A’ under the subject of Math. Overjoyed, she and her husband rushed into their son’s room, thrilled at his remarkable progress.
    “Was it the nuns that did it?” the father asked. The boy shook his head and said “No.”
    “Was it the one-to-one tutoring? The peer-mentoring?” “No.”
    “The textbooks? The teachers? The curriculum?”
    “No”, said the son. “On that first day, when I walked in the front door and saw that guy nailed to the ‘plus sign’, I KNEW they meant business!”

  • John Bernard Books

    Remember when Lt Guv Bullock ran the Sen/state with a heavy hand…who can forget him slapping Attorney Gen Dan Morales and calling him a “dirty meskin”
    :The brow-beating — I think the volume’s up a lot higher than we’ve seen in the past,” said state Rep. Lyle Larson, an ally of House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow San Antonio Republican. “Using a brow-beating approach in governing never bodes well for anybody.””
    https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/03/house-senate-tensions/

    dems……?