The third-annual Texas Tribune Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with headlining appearances by most of the major players in Texas politics in 2014 and beyond. Specifically, declared gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and yet-to-declare gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Senator Ted Cruz, and Texas First Lady Anita Perry all made headlines during their interview and audience Q&A sessions in Austin over the weekend.
Ted Cruz's mammoth, historically-long "filibuster"—in quotes like that because, while it was a very long speech on the floor, it didn't have a parliamentary impact on the upcoming vote he wishes to delay—was less dramatic than Wendy Davis's filibuster—no quotes necessary—here in Texas. Overnight Davis went from "Hold on, yeah, Wikipedia says she's a state senator" to an international celebrity. With Cruz, there was nothing at stake. He agreed in advance to yield the floor, as per Senate rules, to allow the final vote. He didn't face any three-points-of-order-and-you're-out rules, and the only threat of the word "germane" being uttered was by Senator Cruz himself, in the event that he started listing Jackson 5 members (a legitimate possibility, considering some of the left-turns his speech took).
But just because it wasn't high-stakes doesn't mean that there wasn't plenty to appreciate in Cruz's speech. Here are some highlights:
Ted Cruz shouted-out to Ashton Kutcher within the first two hours
Senator Cruz drew on a speech from Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards that went viral earlier this year to make one of his points. To be fair to Senator Cruz, Kutcher's speech included lines like, "opportunity looks a lot like hard work" and, "I've never had a job that I was better than," which are both fairly germane to Cruz's political philosophy.
He read his daughters a bed-time story
He attempted, perhaps clumsily, to tie Green Eggs and Ham to Obamacare—something that led critics on Twitter to remind the Senator that the story is about someone who thinks he hates something, only to learn he actually likes it. But as far as his performance goes, Senator Cruz delivered the Seuss-ian rhymes with a steady, pleasing cadence.
Senator John Cornyn has long been uncomfortable with people making money off of memorabilia tied to convicted murderers. He introduced his first "Stop the Sale of Murderabilia to Protect the Dignity of Crime Victims Act" in 2007, and when that bill died in committee, he revived it three years later, this time with cosponsor Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The 2010 version of the "Murderabilia" bill met the same fate as its predecessor—but now, perhaps motivated by the recent sale of a handwritten letter written to a student by Nidal Hasan, Cornyn is trying again.
The Hasan letter fetched $2,000 for the website DarkVomit, a "True Crime Macabre and Outsider Art Gallery." In a Fox 7 Austin report, Cornyn is cited as believing that some of the money for such sales goes back to the criminal. It's not really clear how that would work (does the student or the proprietor of DarkVomit put a check in the mail?), but there's also certainly something uncomfortable about the notion of anyone making a few thousand dollars off of the fact that Nidal Hasan—or anyone else—murdered people.
Still, "uncomfortable" hasn't been enough to get Cornyn's bill out of committee the past two times. A 2007 story in Time about the first attempt to pass the bill explained that opposition came from civil-liberties groups:
Here's a stumper: Is it legal for a transgender person—say, someone whose original birth certificate says "male," but who identifies as a woman—to get married to a man who identifies as a man?
The law in Texas is unclear in ways that have been a nightmare for Nikki Araguz, a transgender Houston woman whose husband, Thomas Araguz, died in 2010 while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Wharton County. Araguz has been fighting in court since her husband's death for survivor's benefits, and last week, her case was heard by the 13th Court of Appeals.
Why is the law unclear?
In a post on the Guardian's Shortcuts Blog called "Masturbation laws around the world: the penal code" (yes, we see what you did there), the British publication claimed:
"[A] new measure which will come into force on 1 January 2014 will make many forms of male masturbation illegal. 'Exceptions include sperm donations, which now must only be performed at a designated hospital facility.'"
The source the Guardian cites for that tidbit—which, it should go without saying, is 100% untrue—is the website the Tribune Herald. Somewhat legit-sounding URL aside, that is a parody news website that runs on a basic Wordpress template, has 75 followers on Twitter, and includes stories with other headlines like, "Obama to meet and personally arm Syrian rebels with special 'first gun.'"
Police are well aware of the power of social media. There are plenty of examples of police departments around the country attempting to shut down citizens who photograph arrests and confrontations, concerned about what those photographs might capture.
When an ACLU spokesperson declared that "Texas is really the outlier" when it comes to legislation on domestic drone usage, she wasn't joking. That's what advocacy and policy strategist Allie Bohm told Fox News about the law that went into effect on September 1st, and compared to the most of the other states that have laws regarding the use of drones, Texas' legislation is really pretty radical.
At the top of the list of things they're not supposed to mess with when people are cautioned with the words "Don't Mess With Texas" is the slogan itself. As Manny Fernandez reports in the New York Times TXDOT, which holds the trademark on the phrase, has filed over 100 cease-and-desist letters since 2000 to companies making unauthorized use of "Don't Mess With Texas."
The history of the phrase—which was coined in 1985 as part of an antilittering campaign—has been well-documented, but TXDOT's determination to protect it ("to prevent 'Don't Mess With Texas' from losing its original antilittering message," according to state officials cited in Fernandez's story) is a bit surprising. The phrase has been widely used in other contexts by people from George W. Bush (who included it in his speech accepting to the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000) to Greg Abbott (who dropped it on Twitter earlier this month to congratulate two Dallas-area teenagers on helping stop a kidnapping), which presumably makes the stated goal of retaining the antilittering message a difficult task. Over at UrbanDictionary.com, a skirmish appears to have been waged surrounding that confusing context.
Of course, "Don't Mess With Texas" isn't the only unofficial state slogan to receive official protection: "Remember The Alamo" has been at the heart of similar legal battles in Texas, and a New York coffee shop ran afoul of "I ♥ NY" earlier this year. Still, just because TXDOT has its finger on the "cease-and-desist" button doesn't mean there isn't a plethora of unsanctioned "Don't Mess With Texas" merchandise running around out there.
The romance novel cited in Fernandez's report may have been required to change its name, but on Amazon, they're still selling it as Don't Mess With Texas.
In addition to George W. Bush and Greg Abbott, no less a Texas icon than Nolan Ryan has claimed the phrase, signing memorabilia with the words "Don't Mess With Texas" proudly beneath his signature.