The State Republican Party Platform: Discuss
Mon July 14, 2008 12:08 pm

I’m going to write about both party platforms, starting with the Republicans. It is a very interesting document, not only for the individual planks, but also for the frankness of its views and because it reveals some of the fissures inside the GOP. I will address only those planks that I regard as the most interesting, or as worthy of discussion. The entire platform can be found here.

The differences between the Republican platform and the Democratic platform is worth a comment. I’m not talking about their stands on issues. I’m talking about their relative abilities to write. The Republicans don’t mince words. It’s a good read, as platforms go. They reveal themselves, for better or worse. They don’t even mention the Democrats. The Democratic platform reads as though it was contracted out to public policy professionals. It is an exhaustive (and exhausting) commentary on issues in great detail–hard to read, and harder to write about. The Democrats frequently contrast their views with those of Republicans, especially the governor.

Now for the Republicans:

A list of ten principles follows a preamble. (This isn’t the good stuff):
–Respect for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and limited government
–Human life is sacred
–Equal opportunity but not equal outcome
–Government spending is out of control
–Traditional marriage is the foundational unit of a healthy society
–Right of educational choice (public, private, home, religious)
–Strong and vibrant private sector unencumbered by government regulation
–Vigorously protect the sovereignty of the Unted States
–Peace through strength
–Swift and sure justice, stiff penalties, and opposition to judicial activism

Next comes a list of local and state priorities:
–Promote adult stem cell research (but prohibit funding of research that destroys human embryos)
–No unfunded mandates
–Inform juries about the actual length of sentences
–Judicial sentencing: Empower judges to assign punishment in felony cases.

The idea here is to allow juries to decide guilt or innocence only and to place sentencing in the hands of the trial judge. This is of importance mainly in capital cases. My initial reaction is that this violated the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a trial by jury. I was right, sort of. The U.S. Supreme Court held (Walton v. Arizona, 1990) that such a system is constitutional in capital cases. However, the Court overruled Walton twelve years later (Ring v. Arizona), holding that capital defendants are entitled to a jury determination of any fact on which the legislature conditions an increase in their maximum punishment. I find it ironic that the plank violates the Constitution that the platform vows to respect and cherish.

–Law enforcement should make child and sex abuse and methamphetamine drug manufacturing their top priority.

As bad as these crimes are, I think everyday violence is more prevalent, and more of a threat to the preservation of law and order, and should be the top priority.

–Protect the authority of the State Board of Education to manage the Permanent School Fund and control textbook content, expand the cap on charter schools, and remove funding for bilingual education.

This board majority has no authority; it only has biases. It’s a disgrace.

–Abolish the School Property Tax. Fully fund public schools using surplus revenue, existing budget resources, consumption taxes, and funds released by cutting unnecessary expenditures.

Texas doesn’t fully fund anything–and certainly not public schools. Surplus revenue is not always available, and unnecessary expenditures are in the eye of the beholder. The property tax has the advantage of being reserved for local governments like school districts and thus the revenue it raises is not subject to budget competition from public health, highways, and law enforcement. This plank just reinforces what I have observed in the Legislature: The ideological base of the Republican party doesn’t give a damn about public schools.

Next section: “Preserving American Freedom”
–Patriot Act: We urge review and revisions of those portions of the USA Patriot Act, and related executive and military orders and directives that erode constitutional rights and essential liberties of citizens.
–Emergency War Powers: We charge the President to cancel the state of national emergency and charge Congress to repeal the War Powers Act and end our declared state of emergency.
–Elimination of Executive Orders: We demand elimination of presidential authority to issue executive orders and other mandates lacking congressional approval….

See what I mean about the platform exposing the fissures in the Republican party? Here the party’s libertarian wing is at odds with the national security wing. The Texas Republican Party is criticizing the Texan President of the United States (who used to be their leader), and good for them. The Bush Administration’s obsession with expanding the power of the executive branch flies in the face of traditional conservativism’s antipathy for strong central government. In fact, the subhead for this section is, “Limiting the Expanse of Executive Power.”

–Census: We oppose the Census Bureau’s obtaining date beyond the number of citizens residing in a dwelling.

This is too black-helicopter for me. Is the Republic going to fall if the census taker asks their ages?

–[We] oppose initiative and referendum.

When Republicans were in the minority in the Legislature, they were for it.

–Affirmative Action: We believe it is simply racism disguised as a social virtue. We believe that policies that lower standards on the basis of race or gender create a disincentive to excellence….We believe that rights belong to people–not groups. Affirmative action falsely casts those who advocate merit as racist. Affirmative action casts doubt on minority achievement making such achievement as seemingly unearned.

Affirmative action is an attempt to level the playing field called equality of opportunity. It is easy to attack on theoretical grounds as reverse discrimination, and in individual cases (Cheryl Hopwood comes to mind) it has operated unfairly, but I think that it has done more good for American society than harm.

–Eminent Domain: We support limiting the definition of eminent domain to exclude seizing private property for public or private economic development for increased tax revenues.

I agree with this. The city of Arlington is getting the land to build the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium through condemnation. I think it’s wrong to take people’s land to build Jerry Jones a stadium.

–Environment, Property ownership, and Natural Resources: We reaffirm our belief in the constitutional concept of the right to own property without governmental interference.

There is no constitutional right to own property without governmental interference. Zoning restricts property rights, but it is constitutional. Burn bans imposed by government in dry weather are constitutional. Restrictions on polluting waterways are constitutional. Regulations disallowing hunting on your own land in closed season are constitutional. Governments can acquire property from willing sellers to protect endangered species. The plank also opposes “conservation easements on our natural resources administered by organizations unaccountable to voters” and “vast acquisition of government land to protect endangered species.” Conservation easements involving groups like the Nature Conservancy don’t threaten private property ownership; they support ownership by providing income to hard-pressed rural landowners. The section ends by favoring “election of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chairman” and urging “elimination of the Endangered Species Act.” The proposal to elect the TCEQ chair is truly bizarre. Don’t the platform-writers know that the environmentalists in the cities will outvote the rural property-rights advocates? Elect the chairman of TCEQ and all the water in rural Texas will be in Dallas and Houston swimming pools in ten years.

–Restore constitutional integrity in the legislative process. Congress should “prohibit the current practice of inserting into otherwise unrelated legitimate legislation funding for or federal regulations for special interest issues into virtually every special piece of legislation.”

What? No special interest issues? That’s the only kind of issues there are.

Reforming the Judicial System

–Jury service should be limited to registered voters.
This is just awful. It’s a blatant elitist attempt to restrict jury service to the most affluent, most educated voters. I googled “education level of registered voters” and came up with this language from a State of Virginia web site:

[A person is] “more likely to register and vote the higher the:
–office being elected
–voter’s education level
–voter’s income
–voter’s age
–voter’s employment as a civil servant”

–Candidate Eligibility: A candidate running for office should be required to reside within the geographical boundaries of the office sought. Some readers may remember that Joe Nixon tried to pass a bill to this effect in the 2005 session. The feeling among some members was that he was trying to embarrass, if not unseat, certain members, among them Hubert Vo. The U.S. Constitution does not require that members of Congress reside within their districts; it mandates only that a representative must be an “inhabitant” of the state he represents (Article 2, Section 2.2). Parliament repealed its residency requirement in 1774. Many MPs do live in their districts, but likely cabinet officers are typically assigned to run in districts that are safe for members of their party. The Texas Constitution requires that senators and representatives be residents of their districts for one year preceding their election. The question at issue is whether there is wiggle room in “resident.” Some members have been known to rent an apartment in their districts and maintain their residency elsewhere. Some, from rural areas, live in Austin and use their parents’ address for residency. There was a flap over residency in the Dee Margo-Pat Haggerty race. This was the Texas Observer’s take:

“… Haggerty is questioning Margo’s residency in District 78. Back in October, while still a resident of District 77, Margo told the El Paso Times that he wanted to build a single-story home in Haggerty’s district because ‘the family’s longtime housekeeper is crippled, and it would be easier for her to get around in a one-level home than in the Margo’s current three-level home.’

To run in the March primary, Margo needed to be in the house by November 4 [one year before the 2008 election] to meet the state’s one-year residency requirement for the general election. Haggerty says Margo hasn’t shown that he relocated in time. Margo counters in news reports that he moved into an apartment in the district just in time.”

My view of the issue, which I expressed to Nixon at the time, is that the matter of whether a member “resides” in his district ought to be up to his constituents. If they object, they can tell him so at the ballot box. I don’t know why this provision is in the platform, but I bet that it is written with a particular target, or targets, in mind.

–Remedies to Activist Judiciary: We call Congress and the President to use their constitutional powers to restrain activist judges. We urge Congress to … remove judges who abuse their authority. Further, we urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights.

Who wrote this plank? Tom DeLay? It is reminiscent of the time when he was threatening to have the judges involved in the Terri Schiavo case impeached. I agree with a previous plank that supported the principle of judicial restraint and the practice of interpreting and applying the law rather than making it. And the idea of stripping the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights is, well, again the word that best describes it is “bizarre.” It seems to assume that the Court will always rule against the Republican position in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights. What if religious freedom is imperiled? Don’t Republicans want the Court to have jurisdiction? This is dangerous nonsense.

Restoring Integrity to Our Elections

–Protecting union member’s dues: We support legislation requiring labor unions to obtain consent of the union member before that member’s dues can be used for political purposes.

An oldie but goodie attempt to limit labor’s political clout, which is (choose one) a. waning, b. overrated, c. nonexistent.

–Voter registration: We support restoring integrity to the voter registration rolls and to reducing voter fraud. We support repeal of all Motor Voter laws; re-registering voters every four years, requiring photo ID of first-time registrants….

Repeal of motor voter laws! Why don’t they just come out and say that they don’t think that ordinary people should vote? The Republicans’ desire to reduce voter participation is obvious–and, as I said in the beginning, they are not embarrassed about it.

–Primary filing date: We urge changing the date of the filing for the March primary from January 2 to the second Monday in January.

This is a good idea. The early filing deadline is an advantage for incumbents, who are always thinking about the next election, even during the Christmas holidays, while normal people who might run have other things on their minds.

–Fair Election Procedures: We support a federal or state government-issued photo idea at in-person voting; increased scrutiny and security in balloting by mail; prohibition of Internet voting and any electronic voting lacking a verifiable paper trail; prohibition of mobile voting; … repeal of the unconstitutional “Help America Vote Act.”

HAVA, the Help America Vote Act, was passed in 2002 and signed into law by President Bush. The act has come in for a great deal of criticism because it represents a federal intrusion into elections, which traditionally have been a state responsibility, and greatly raises the cost of elections by requiring that lever and punch-card voting machines be replaced by electronic machines. HAVA was a response to the fiasco in Florida over hanging chads. This is a scary piece of legislation. It requires states to use electronic voting machines. Whether they are secure is a subject of fierce debate. Whether they provide an adequate paper trail is a subject of fierce debate. I would vote with the Texas Republican party to repeal the act.

–Campaign Finance Reform: We urge immediate repeal of the McCain-Feingold Act.

Uh, folks, the Democrats are getting all the campaign money these days. You might want to keep the Act’s restrictions on fundraising in force.

–Platform/Legislation: We urge the Legislature to permit a political party to require each of its candidates to indicate their position on each platform plank before their acceptance on the primary ballot.

I especially look forward to seeing Rick Perry indicate his support for the plank on the Trans-Texas Corridor that reads: “We emphatically oppose the Trans-Texas Corridor in any form or manner. We call for full investigation of any public officials authorizing any form of eminent domain for the Trans-Texas Corridor and foreign funding.” In the real world, there is no way that lawmakers are going to give political activists veto power over their candidacy–nor should they. The platform is a statement of principles, not a loyalty oath.

–Governor’s Veto: We urge a Constitutional Amendment permitting the Legislature to return for a three-day session in response to the governor’s veto.

Ouch! A slap in the Perry’s face. This is a constitutional amendment proposed by Houston Republican Gary Elkins.

–Public Integrity Unit: We urge the Legislature to secure the impartiality and probity of the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, by transferring its powers and funding to an impartial statewide elected judicial entity.

And what might that be? Our judges are elected on a partisan basis. In any event, even if state funding is removed, the District Attorney of Travis County has jurisdiction over all crimes committed in the county.

–Term Limits: We urge Congress, the Legislature, and the Republican Party to establish reasonable term limits.

I’m opposed. It should be up to a member’s constituents whether that member deserves to be reelected–with one exception. I do think that in a system in which the governor’s appointees have so much power, future governors ought to be subject to a two-term limit. Otherwise, as we have seen under Rick Perry, the constitutional scheme of a legislative-driven state government is in danger of becoming a strong-governor system, which is exactly what the framers of the Texas Constitution did not want.

–November Election: All public elections, except for primary elections, should be held in November.

I suppose that I should commend this plank because I have been critical of planks intended to diminish voter participation. But I won’t. I think it’s a bad idea to mix partisan races with nonpartisan races for city and school district offices. Nobody is going to pay much attention to local races when there are major races on the ballot. I am also concerned that the real motive behind this plank is to maximize the turnout in opposition to school bond elections.

Honoring the Symbols of Our American Heritage

No surprises here. Republicans…
…oppose any governmental action to restrict public display of the Ten Commandments
…supports the Pledge Protection Act, which “amends the federal judicial code to deny jurisdiction to any federal court, and appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of the Pledge of Allegiance or its validity under the Constitution.”
…supports American English as the official language of Texas and the United States.
…supports establishment of penalties for any form of desecration of the American Flag.
…calls for restoration of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution that were removed from state buildings.

I’m a history major. I don’t approve of rewriting or editing history. My solution to this issue, which sparked a two-hour floor fight in the Legislature, is to have an exhibit in the Bullock Museum about the contribution of the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund.

At this point, I am going to post what I have written so far. I have covered only five pages of the platform. Fourteen more to go, including pages and pages on right to life and family issues.

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