Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more. 

The Return of Abigail Fisher

In April 2012, I wrote a column about the Abigail Fisher case, an affirmative-action lawsuit in which Fisher, a Anglo student from Sugar Land, sought admission to the University of Texas as an undergraduate. I wrote:

The ultimate question is not one of law. It’s one of politics: Does the court dare turn back the clock on minority advancement and squelch the aspirations of a new generation of young Americans?

Dead Confederates at the Capitol

On the afternoon of April 16, 1903, people from all over Texas gathered on the lawn of the Capitol to dedicate a monument to the Confederate war dead. The Santa Fe Railroad had offered discount tickets for anyone wanting to make the trip. The Dallas Morning News reported that the dedication “was preceded by one of the largest parades ever seen in Austin.” The monument was a gift to the state from the Camp John B. Hood, United Confederate Veterans.

A reception followed in the Senate, and then the final exercises were held in the House chamber, featuring a speech by former Confederate postmaster John H. Reagan, the recently retired chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. “He declared that the Confederates were neither traitors nor rebels, but had been forced to vindicate themselves when the majority in the national Government trampled over their constitutional rights,” the News reported.

Reagan spoke several days later in Fort Worth and said there had been a “systematic falsification of the great facts of history,” the Star-Telegram reported. “Slavery he said was the occasion but it was not strictly true to say that it was the cause of the war. Sectional jealousy, greed of gain and the lust of political power in his opinion led to the great struggle.”

So was this statue on the Capitol grounds meant to honor Texans who fought in the Civil War or was it an homage to the Confederacy?

Our Honorable Nonsense

The thing I love most about America is that our existential premises are radical, unrealistic, revolutionary ideals. Before 1776, the world’s borders were drawn by conquest and its peoples were categorized by ancestry, ethnicity, religion, or language.

The Ken Paxton Problem

The real problem with attorney general Ken Paxton is not just that he has admitted to securities violations, although he has certainly done that. Or that his civil violations could now lead to a felony criminal indictment. Or that he has essentially locked himself in a closet ever since the Republican primary to avoid media scrutiny. Or that his opinions as attorney general read more like political statements than principled, legal rulings. The problem with Paxton is that he is a mediocrity, a lawyer who appears to have little respect for the law.

Five Takeaways from Ted Cruz's New Book

It’s summer, and the interim—thanks, Governor Abbott!—so yesterday I grabbed a beach towel and a glass of iced tea and settled down to read Ted Cruz’s new book, “A Time for Truth.” 

The title, in my view, is smarmy. Other than that I found it an enjoyable read, as these things go. Cruz is a deft troll, and although he worked with a ghostwriter, the result is very much Cruz’s voice. [UPDATE: See note, below.] On page 80, he notes that Michael Luttig, the federal appellate judge for whom he clerked, is “an immensely meticulous man.” On page 125, he describes his future wife: “Heidi is a brilliant, meticulous, sunny blonde from California, and I was smitten with her almost immediately.”

No one describes a wife as “meticulous” because they were looking for a filler word, so based on details like that, along with Cruz’s habitual, lawyerly precision, I think we can proceed on the assumption that some of the more newsy passages in the book are conveying the messages that they were intended to. The book doesn’t say anything unduly critical of Karl Rove, for example, but the mutual contempt between the two jumps off the page.

Reading between the lines a little, here are five things that jumped out to me. The last one is the best, so read on below.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Stay on HB2, Setting Up a Major Abortion Decision in the Near Future

These are interesting times, especially if you’re a Supreme Court observer. While the ruling on gay marriage—as well as recent rulings on Obamacare, housing discrimination, congressional districting, and more—was hotly anticipated, the court dropped a final surprise on Texas this afternoon: they issued a stay preventing Texas from implementing the policies of HB2, the famous 2013 omnibus abortion bill whose troubled passage has been marked by an equally troubled legal battle. 

The Court issued the stay in response to a request from the plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HB2. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had allowed almost all of the provisions of HB2 to go into effect earlier this month, with a short window before clinics would be required to comply. The plaintiffs in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a group of abortion providers headlined by the Whole Woman’s Health clinics, had immediately asked the Fifth Circuit to stay its own ruling pending appeal, which the appeals court soon denied. Following that request, the plaintiffs took the issue to the Supreme Court, where the eventual appeal would be heard.

Out of Step (And Falling Behind)

The takeaway from last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions and our leadership’s reactions to them show just how far Texas has slipped away from the mainstream. Same-sex marriage? Republicans are against it. Health care for everyone? Against it. Discrimination in housing projects? We’re on the wrong side of that too.

The Limits of Scorecards

Earlier today Konni Burton, the Republican senator from Fort Worth, took the capitol press corps to task on Twitter for its collective disinterest in the EmpowerTexans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibilty’s biennial “Fiscal Responsibility Index,” which was released yesterday. As is typically the case with that particular ranking, the legislators who earned the highest praise were self-declared “fiscal conservatives,” including Burton herself. She was one of three senators, along with Bob Hall and Van Taylor, to receive a perfect score, and the implication, at least, was that the media had ignored this achievement because it didn’t fit our narrative.

I can’t speak for all media, obviously. But I can explain to readers why I ignored this index. I agreed with some of its conclusions (Burton, for example, is clearly a fiscal conservative, and I thought she was the best of the Senate’s true freshmen.) Still, as I said yesterday, the Fiscal Responsibility Index is too garbled to be meaningful. The methodology is distorted, and—as with all scorecards—overly simplistic. That’s why its results are so erratic. 

Just to make sure I’m clear: It’s true that I don’t respect EmpowerTexans as a group or take most of its “work” seriously. But I’m not dismissing the Fiscal Responsibility Index just because I don’t like Michael Quinn Sullivan or his fiscally subliterate belligerence. I’m dismissing the analysis because it’s not good analysis.

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