Through the Looking Glass

On November 10 Giovanni Capriglione, a Republican state representative from Southlake, appeared on a panel convened by the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party and took a lonely stand. The topic that evening was the 2015 legislative session, which would begin January 13. It had been less than a week since Republicans had once again swept the statewide elections, this time by unexpectedly large margins.

What Social Conservatives (and Liberals) Can Learn from Kyleen Wright

One of my recurring frustrations with debates over social issues is that such debates often rest on moral principles over empirical evidence, sometimes to the point where the latter are dismissed or even disdained. Philosophically, I have no objection; we should all aim to be serious about our moral reasoning, and the First Amendment protects free expression. Pragmatically, though, arguments that are primarily or exclusively based on moral principles are vulnerable and problematic. Vulnerable, because it’s hard to build a lasting coalition of interest around a contentious and unverifiable premise. Problematic, because insofar as moral principles aren’t derived from evidence, moral arguments aren’t subject to re-evaluation in the face of contrary evidence. They’re not even subject to evidentiary standards in the first place, which creates another practical problem: moral arguments don’t anticipate or really even allow for the possibility of disagreement. They’re blunt instruments. Advocates may be able to use them to ram a bill through the legislature, but they won’t change anyone’s mind doing things that way, and they create suspicion and hostility on both sides. 

With that in mind, I wanted to point you all to the September issue of Texas Monthly, which features a chat with Kyleen Wright, the head of Texans for Life. They were one of the pro-life groups that advocated for the passage of last year’s omnibus abortion bill, and as Wright explained to me, their particular priority was the provision that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. The reason, she explained, was as follows. Two women had confided in her about their distressing abortion experiences–two women who were unrelated, except that they had seen the same doctor. It occurred to her that a law requiring hospital admitting privileges would effectively provide another layer of oversight and get some of the sketchier doctors out of the business. (Worth noting, although this was cut for space in the print edition: Wright added that they had run through the finite list of doctors who provide abortions in Texas and found that most of them either already had such admitting privileges or would be easily able to acquire them.) A year later, this was her overall summary of their work on the bill, and its effects: 

Brain Drain

Over the past few days, news has emerged that two of Texas’s better politicians—one Democrat and one Republican, before anyone gets offended—are on the verge of being poached away. The San Antonio Express-News reported on Saturday that Julián Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, has been offered a job in Barack Obama’s cabinet, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; it isn’t the first time that the folks up in Washington have wooed this Castro, but it is the first time, per the Express-News, that he didn’t spurn their advances.

Also significant, although it hasn’t incited nearly such excitement and speculation from the national media, is the news that Robert Duncan, the longtime state senator from Lubbock, will leave the Lege to become chancellor of Texas Tech. So let me sneak in a comment about Duncan before chiming in on the speculation about what Castro’s move may mean.

Duncan has been a genuinely superlative senator. When we were working on last year’s Best List, we crunched the numbers, and found that he was the most honored legislator in the history of the project—it was his fifth time being named a “Best Legislator,” and he also had an honorable mention and a rookie of the year notice. Beyond that, Duncan is the kind of legislator who illustrates the reason that we spend so much time researching the Best List. He’s not particularly high profile, and he’s not at all a showman. If you had watched every minute of proceedings on the Senate floor last year, you probably wouldn’t even have noticed him. And yet if you started talking to legislators, staffers, lobbyists, and advocates, you would hear Duncan cited consistently, warmly, and across party lines as one of the most thoughtful, trustworthy, and effective people in the building. As a senator, he’s tackled serious but unglamorous issues, such as the solvency of state pension funds; he’s also provided critical, behind-the-scenes assists to colleagues of both parties. An example would be last year’s equal pay bill. His departure from the Senate will be a loss for that chamber, because he’s been a real credit to it—because of the laws he helped pass, and because of the example he set. 

Rick Perry’s Long Goodbye

“It’s been an improbable journey,” Governor Rick Perry said on Monday afternoon at a Caterpillar dealership in San Antonio. No kidding. When Perry became governor, in 2000, no one expected much from him. He had always been seen as a lightweight, a back-bencher in the Texas House who had managed to get himself elected agriculture commissioner–after switching parties–and later lieutenant-governor, but only with an assist from George W. Bush and Karl Rove. 

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