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The Worst Little Statehouse in Texas

Where the Pygmies Have Gone Deaf

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Illustration by Claire Hogan

In 1964, journalist Willie Morris quoted a member of the Texas House as saying the state Capitol “was built for giants and inhabited by pygmies.” In the intervening years, the faces have changed, but not much else. The one-party Democratic Texas has been replaced effectively by one-party Republican Texas. Restroom segregation, tight-fisted state spending, mandates on cities, and a select committee to study how to pay for public schools—we’ve been there before. No matter how many oil wells we drill or shiny glass skyscrapers we build, some things remain consistent.

There was, however, a remarkable difference this year—a disdain for the community leaders of Texas. On a host of issues, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Republican Senate offered a deaf ear to the state’s business leaders, police chiefs, and locally elected public officials. The 2017 legislative sessions will be remembered for divisive fundamentalism, a miserly disinterest in investing in the state’s future, and, more than anything, an arrogance that the 181 lawmakers elected to the pink granite building in Austin are somehow smarter than the other 19,198 city, county, and school elected officials in Texas. Without the federal government of President Obama as a foil, the state’s leadership suddenly turned on us—or perhaps itself. As Morris wrote five decades ago, “One‐party complacency, and an uncommon tendency to at­tack Washington for all ills, have engendered a lingering suspicion of government of any kind.”

Almost twenty years after Morris made his observations on the Texas Capitol, another observer of our state, Larry L. King, visited the Pink Dome for a CBS special called The Best Little Statehouse in Texas, a title playing off the Broadway success he had achieved with a musical about a brothel outside of LaGrange. The year was 1981, and the producers got to wondering what kind of America President Ronald Reagan wanted, ultimately deciding it was Texas. “What we’ve seen is not peculiar to Texas—other mortals in other legislatures in other states make mistakes and cut deals and reach their own handy compromises,” King mused in the show’s opening. “In their own ambitions, the needs and desires of the people may not always get top priority. Perhaps my Texans are a bit more colorful, a bit rawer—but the process, alas, is much the same in your state and in your neighbor’s.”

And that is exactly why what happened in the Texas Legislature this year is so important. Texas is the trend-setter for the conservative states of America, an L-shaped geographical region linking the Old South to the Old West—the Rust Belt starting to squeeze its way in. As the demography-is-destiny Democrats sat smugly on the coasts for the past ten years, Republicans captured the statehouses in the heartland. Republicans dominate 33 states, and already we are seeing other states engaging in the same effort to crush local control as is happening in Texas: Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, plus Iowa, with state pre-emption of local control upsetting some Republicans as an abandonment of a basic principle of the party.

Some of this is purely political. Pew Charitable Trusts earlier this year reported that mayors who ran as Democrats or have been affiliated with the Democratic party command 78 percent of the nation’s largest cities. “People are happy with their governments at the state level. They’re not with their cities,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said on the Fox Business network. “That’s where you see liberal policies, that’s where you see high taxes, where you see high street crimes. Look at New York, look at Chicago, look at…go around the country. So the only place Democrats have control of is our cities and they’re doing a terrible job.”

But the friction with city leaders seems to be spreading. During this session about 1,500 school superintendents and board members who wanted $1.2 billion in funding, which was included in a House bill, were ignored by Patrick’s Senate in both the regular and special session. The mayors of Texas’s eighteen most populous cities asked Governor Greg Abbott to drop his support for automatic property tax rollback elections for city and county governments, which never happened. Abbott took credit for grants to police departments for body armor, but did not listen when the state’s police chiefs argued against sanctuary cities or the proposal to restrict the restroom access for transgender people. Speaking of the bathroom bill, supported by Patrick and Abbott, only the House leadership under Joe Straus seemed to pay any attention to hundreds of business leaders in Texas who opposed it.

In the late 1950s, Dallas City Attorney H.P. Kucera told a gathering of municipal officials in Austin that the Legislature was encroaching on “cities rights.” Kucera said that “if the cities and the citizens do not wake up to what this domination by Washington and Austin leads to, we will be faced with the loss of control of our local affairs.” As the Bible says, nothing is new under the sun. Earlier this summer, Abbott attended the grand opening of Toyota’s North American headquarters in Plano, declaring that “the Texas model is proof that limited government secures economic liberty and encourages unlimited opportunity.” Only bills restricting municipal regulation of tree removal and annexation made it past the House to Abbott’s desk, but Republican-leaning cities in the Dallas suburbs were targeted, along with Democratic cities, for state assaults on local control.

Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney was among a group of mayors from Republican cities to meet with Abbott to show how the tax rollback election he was backing would harm the city finances. Cheney told me the city this year is cutting its tax rate, granting an extra 7.5 percent homestead exemption and raising the exemption for senior citizens. But under the automatic rollback provisions of the failed Senate Bill 1, Frisco would have faced either cutting police officers from the budget or spending $200,000 to hold a rollback election over its tax rates. He said Abbott seemed sympathetic, but if it wasn’t for big-spending cities it would not be necessary to have legislation that also would punish cities like Frisco.

Plano is among five cities in Texas with a non-discrimination ordinance that covers sexual preference, though not gender identity. Of the five cities with such ordinances, Plano and Fort Worth routinely vote overwhelmingly Republican. Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said the Plano ordinance was important to attracting national corporations to relocate in his city. Last year, Money magazine named Plano as the third best place to live and work in America. “You know, we’ve created about 30,000 jobs in Plano my first term as mayor. Toyota, FedEx, Liberty Mutual, JP Morgan, Boeing, Fannie May— all those companies chose to come to Plano and three reasons they say they’ve come: we have a safe city, it’s one of the safest cities in America. We have a fantastic school system and we deliver quality city services that translate into quality of life. To assault us as the problem, I think is pretty disappointing,” LaRosiliere told me. “I have to say, when you look at what’s being focused on versus what I know people are concerned with, there’s an absolute disconnect.”

LaRosiliere told me that he loves being mayor but considers politics to be the “dirty diaper” part of the job and too often the political side is too “philosophical” over “practical.” However, LaRosiliere said through the regular session and the special session that just ended, there was one state leader who listened to local government. “I want to take this moment to highlight that the true leader of Texas is speaker of the House, Joe Straus. He exemplifies what a leader is. He’s thoughtful, he’s careful, he’s measured. He’s balanced and I’m so thankful for his leadership. He’s ushered us through some— certainly, he’s proven to be a friend of cities and someone who listens before he makes a decision.”

Straus took the heat for his fellow House members on issues like the bathroom bill and local tax rollbacks desired by the Senate, making sure those issues did not come to a vote. Perhaps Straus proved Willie Morris wrong—they’re not all pygmies.

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  • vietvet3

    OMG! Go in your backyard, dig a deep hole, jump in and pull the hole in after you.
    .
    Rick ‘good hair’ Perry may be the new Sec of Homeland Security.
    .
    His main competition is a bag of rocks, and a fence post. OOPS!

    • SpiritofPearl

      Well, I’ll feel much safer.

    • Casandra Tompkins

      Now I really do need a bomb shelter.

  • Gunslinger

    Thank you, Speaker Joe Straus, for keeping Texas from falling off the cliff.

  • WUSRPH

    All this year has proven is that people who call themselves “conservatives” may be quite something else when it comes to tolerating the rights of others to do things differently from the way they approve. Then they turn into power-hogging little despots who want to make it impossible for local voters to chose anything that is not acceptable to their limited viewpoints. If just goes to once more prove the motto of the Abbotts and Patricks’:
    You only have right to vote if you vote RIGHT (as we see it to be).

    • WUSRPH

      Well, it looks like Abbott is serious about going to war against Straus and company—-at least as far as using an attack on them to raise money for his campaign…..(See QR item)

      Don’t you just love it when the GOP starts to tear itself apart to prove who is the “most pure”…..and that was supposed to be only something Democrats did…

    • wessexmom

      Gee, you think?
      Seriously, though, do you see any signs that Patrick’s growing estrangement from the business & community leaders might be starting to catch up with him & his crew?

      I was struck by a segment on Houston’s NBC affiliate last wk in which several school board superintendents from rural & red suburban districts were interviewed. Not only were they freaking out about the state’s deep budget cuts to their districts; They were also badmouthing the leg. https://www.click2houston.com/news/investigates/some-texas-school-districts-face-cuts-over-loss-of-funding

      It seems possible that such discontent might spread eventually to home builders, bankers & other business people who depend on decent schools to attract new families and customers in these deeply red regions, especially if instability in the oil biz persists.

      • WUSRPH

        I would hope that reason and logic—and even economic self-interest—would eventually undermine some of Patrick’s support…but he will be fine as long as the GOP Primary is dominated by the radical right….Getting JJ’s semi-mythical “moderate” Republicans and the “November Republicans” who vote only in the fall and then for anyone with an (R) after their name to take the time to go to the polls in March is going to be a hard task…and probably one that will not happen this year. In fact, the polls continue to show that he and his ilk are quite popular with the likely GO voter. As Bob Bullock used to say: Texas will get serious about fixing its problems when the schools are closed, the prison doors are wide open and the roads are full of holes….That is the likely fate of a State run on the Patrick/Abbott plan, but the voter outrage such a state of affairs should, in theory, provoke is no where to be seen at least yet.

  • Kozmo

    I’m aghast that anyone thinks Plano is the third-best ANYTHING. (Gratuitous dig at Plano.)

  • WUSRPH

    I assume you saw where State Rep. Matt Shaheen, a leader in the Freedom Caucus, has decided not to try to run for the Texas Senate because, among other things, the public is calling on him to stay in the Texas House and continue to wage the fight against the evil RINOS. Of course, the fact that he was going to be totally outspent and that there was a real chance that he would lose, had nothing at all to do with his decision.

    Whenever I hear a politician talk about how he is “answering the public’s call” in doing something (or, in this case,
    not doing something) I am reminded of when long-ago State Sen. Jack Ogg of Houston only semi-jokingly explained what that really meant. As Ogg put it, “Whenever a politician tells you he is ‘answering the public’s call’ it means that he and his wife talked it over and she said it wasn’t that bad of an idea.” We could use a few officeholders with Ogg’s honesty (at least on this subject).

    • wessexmom

      Then T Rex Tillerson is probably mad at hell at HIS wife—Tillerson said he did not want to be US secretary of state and only took the job because his wife convinced him to do it. She told him, “God’s not through with you.”

  • José

    I’m having trouble squaring Patrick’s “logic” with the facts. He says that people are unhappy with the local government despite the fact that the people elect these officials on a regular basis, without much guidance from super-PACs and dark money from out of state billionaires. Maybe the locals know better.

    The gap between state and local is interesting. It seems that Republican mayors have a lot more in common with Democratic mayors than they do with Republican politicians at the state level.

    • WUSRPH

      You saw that a group says it is going to run a major pro-education effort in the primaries….(where have I heard that before)…..well maybe someone should set up a similar “Texas for Local Control” and force the candidates in the primaries, particularly in the GOP balloting, to fess up about how they feel about the Abbott/Patrick drive to force uniformity (with their positions) in every city and burg. And, how they want to tie the hands of local officials to respond to local needs in a total rejection of the old GOP anthem about “the government closest to the people is the best government. In effect, make them explain why they think that the folks in the State Capitol Bldg. know more about what the people of X, Y and Z community want and need…..Put them “on the record” and have them sign a pledge. It probably won’t make much difference in how Abbott and Patrick approach things…or even how the legislature eventually votes on the issues……(after all, screaming the myth of “big spenders, out of control…and only we can save you” has worked before)…But it would be nice to watch a few of the legislators, particularly the Freedom Caucus, squirm their way out of opposing local control.

      • Don Baker

        Oh there will be some activity in the primary elections this time. I suspect some RINOs will be booted out of office. I am contributing to challengers to Byron Cook and JD Sheffield and I encourage others to do the same.

        • WUSRPH

          I wish I could say that you are throwing good money after the bad that was wasting against Cook and others two years ago…but that yet to be seen…

          • Donald Baker

            Cook won last time by fraudulent votes “found” at the last minute. The legislature has passed legislation to deal with the fraudulent vote harvesting that got Cook elected.

    • dave in texas

      In all of the lieutenant governor’s rhetoric about Chicago and Detroit, he seems to have forgotten the remarkable growth and prosperity of Texas cities like Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc. All of which are led by Democrats.

  • BCinBCS

    In [Texas politicians] own ambitions, the needs and desires of the people may not always get top priority.

    That quote pretty-much sums up R.G.’s entire post.

  • SpiritofPearl

    When Texas became Kansas . . .

    • Tuck Frump

      Exactly

    • wessexmom

      Oh, we’re BEYOND Kansas. Patrick is the Texas Trump in many ways. He’s a phony, a political carpetbagger and flame thrower who is mentally and emotionally unstable. He’ll burn himself out eventually but Texas as we’ve known it may already be a smoldering ruin by then.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Will Texas under right-wing zealots cut so deeply into the budget that children have a four-day school week? Not working out well for Brownback . . .

  • John Bernard Books

    Obama behind white supremacy emergence?
    “A relative newcomer to the white nationalist scene, Jason Kessler has made waves in his attempt to unseat Charlottesville’s only black city councilman and for his status as a bridge between a Virginia gubernatorial candidate and the Alt-Right. Relying on familiar tropes of “white genocide” and “demographic displacement,” Kessler has sought to parlay his status as a lonely dissenter in the “Capital of the Resistance” into notoriety on the larger far right circuit by organizing a second white nationalist rally in Charlottesville after the first, torchlit rally in May of 2017 made headlines.
    Arrest records indicate that Kessler was convicted in 2005 for shoplifting, obstructing justice and for a string of failures to appear and register, in addition to numerous traffic violations and citations.
    Rumors abound on white nationalist forums that Kessler’s ideological pedigree before 2016 was less than pure and seem to point to involvement in the Occupy movement and past support for President Obama.”
    https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/jason-kessler

    Bellamy is a blm guy and kessler is an occupy guy, they are both Obama’s guys……..

    • wessexmom

      Just remember that very moment spent here with us is a moment you’re not spending on “white nationalist forums”. Life is already too short, don’t you think?

      • John Bernard Books

        Yes life is short so why spend it hating on me?…..you big dummie auntyfi

      • SpiritofPearl

        “Not-So-Brightbart.”

  • John Bernard Books

    Are the democrats the “permanently angry?”
    “He said the events in Charlottesville were unfortunate but predictable. Over the last couple of decades, he explains, there has been an overwhelming focus on tribal “identity politics,” reinforcing the notion that people are singularly identified as racial, gender, or sexual minorities.”
    https://www.onenewsnow.com/culture/2017/08/15/theres-no-satisfying-the-permanently-angry

    I’ve never met a democrat who wasn’t angry.

  • subtext9

    If Austin is so toxic to our state lawmakers, let me invite all of them to leave our fair, flawed city forever. Y’all can even let the bathroom door slam on your way out.

    • WUSRPH

      Don’t tempt them…They might roll out the old ant-Austin proposal to abolish the government of Travis County and the City of Austin and all other local governments and replace them with “The District of Travis”. It would be like the old “District of Columbia” was before those liberals started talking about letting local people control their own lives when Washington DC was governed by the US House and Senate. Think of all the benefits of destroying the “Peoples’ Republic of Austin/Travis County”….Just the improvement of the smell in the air would by itself be enough to justify it as we replaced the current toxic air with the “smell of freedom”.

      • José

        That would be just like them. Of all the hypocrisies mouthed by right wingers few are as glaring as trying to reconcile “No taxation without representation” with the status of the District of Columbia. It’s just incredible that the yahoos up in Kentucky or the rednecks in Oklahoma have more say over the local affairs of D.C. than the hundreds of thousands of Americans who actually live there. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim Lankford (R-OK), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and John Hoeven (R-ND) are the GOP members of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the District. The one qualification that they appear to have in common is a complete lack of experience in dealing with east coast urban issues.

        If someone truly wants to investigate voter fraud, a good place to start would be to ask why these 680,000 American citizens have no voting representation in the US Congress.

        • WUSRPH

          You forget that anything is justified when (depending on which group you are)
          The laws of history, racial superiority, or God are on your side….
          When that happens, you only have the right to vote if you vote right.

        • anonyfool

          It’s majority African American so there’s no way the GOP will let them have a say in Congress in our lifetimes. We should fight for it but it took 200 years for them to get an amendment to count their vote for President, if our country last that long, it will probably take 200 years to get them taxation with representation. Puerto Rico has about as good a chance at the current rate of progress.

          • José

            Yeah, it’s pretty obvious why they’re disenfranchised. If it was an enclave of solidly Republican voters you can bet there would be all sorts of complaining about it.

            Puerto Rico is a different case. Very peculiar. They have more self governance than DC and most citizens are exempt from federal income tax though curiously they do pay into Social Security and Medicare. So their situation is a mixed bag whereas for the citizens in DC it’s not..

  • John Bernard Books

    I have two petitions for you to sign one designates auntyfi as a terrorist organization and one demands an investigation into clinton/lynch.
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/08/19/white-house-petition-calls-on-trump-to-officially-recognize-antifa-as-a-terrorist-organization/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social
    Will you sign them to help finish off the dem party…..

    • wessexmom

      Is that a fact checking band of aunts?

      • SpiritofPearl

        Got him!

        • John Bernard Books

          you’re the only poster I’ve ever banned for being stupid….don’t press your luck bozo

        • SpiritofPearl

          “This user is blocked.”

      • John Bernard Books

        I knew it….too subtle?

  • SpiritofPearl
  • John Bernard Books

    for my dem friends…
    “Then you flew your Lear Jet up to Novia Scotia,to see the total eclipse of the sun..”

  • John Bernard Books
  • John Bernard Books

    ignorance and stupidity…..

  • John Bernard Books

    UT showcases the LBJ library?……
    “LBJ,”As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your god*amn name. So no matter what you are called, ni**er, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.”
    http://www.snopes.com/lbj-v

    Dems have always loved their racists….

  • John Bernard Books

    With the DNC unravelling why is the Hobby owned TM doubling down on liberal articles….
    “The DNC and Democratic leadership have repeatedly ignored their voters and the harsh realities facing the party. After Hillary Clinton lost the election, a DNC staffer reportedly let loose on DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile for allowing Donald Trump to win.”
    http://observer.com/2017/08/dnc-democratic-party-fundraising/

    because all they know is racism, misogyny and homophobia. Dem voters have to be told what to do……

  • WUSRPH

    Best news of the day—-QR says that MRS. ATTORNEY GENERAL PAXTON, Angela Paxton, is thinking about running for the Texas State Senate rather than let the Huffiness boys make it a duo…It might give her something to do if Ken is off somewhere in Huntsville or some place like that after his trial…assuming it ever takes place…It would also keep the family hand in the State Pension system….should he be obliged to leave public office earlier than he had planned.

    We already have two Bonnen’s in the House and a Lucio in both the House and Senate…so a Paxton in the Senate and another in the hoosegow should not be that strange.

  • Jay Trainor

    Thanks RG for capturing the disconnect of our two top leaders.

    Abbott ‘s playing the role of the king with no cloths on and Dan Patrick is playing the court jester. Who is going to tell them the rest of us have moved on:

    • anonyfool

      I think we’ll need to see if they get re-elected. If they do, it’s because the majority of Texas voters are morons and agree with their agendas. If not, then you’re right.

      • donuthin2

        They, especially patrick were elected in the first place because Tx voters are morons and agree with their agenda

  • John Bernard Books

    did you really believe the lefties aren’t stupid?
    “On Tuesday night, the network confirmed that its management moved an Asian-American announcer, Robert Lee, off the University of Virginia’s home opener football game “simply because of the coincidence of his name.””
    http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/23/media/espn-robert-lee-uva-game/index.html

    The name is racist………hahaha

  • John Bernard Books

    Why do liberals lie….
    “Well if nothing else, you’ve got to admire these guys’ chutzpah. As we saw from yesterday’s story Global Warming Is Almost Entirely Natural, Study Confirms, global mean temperature is currently about one degree C colder than it was at the height of the Medieval Warming Period about 850 years ago. So alarmist scientists have had to work pretty hard to advance their claim that recent warming is dramatic, unprecedented and largely man-made. Here they are, caught red-handed, torturing the data till it screams.”
    http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/08/23/delingpole-all-of-recent-u-s-warming-has-been-faked-by-noaa/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

    For the same reason a dog licks his balls.

    Because they can.

  • Donald Baker

    You do know don’t you, the KKK was founded by the democrat party. There is no resemblance between the Nazi party of Germany and either political party in the US. You like to accuse conservatives of being Nazis. You are clueless what the term means. If that were true, you lying treasonous criminal little snowflakes would have been marched off to gas chambers long ago.

    • Tuck Frump

      Poorly educated and BRAINWASHED snowflake is confused.
      Boo Hoooo Hooooooooo