This is the time of year that a lot of publications explore the bests of the last decade—one hundred greatest albums, ten greatest movies, and so on. This is not one of those lists. Is this list in ascending or descending order? People of good faith can disagree.
It was an eventful time in the politics of our great state, replete with many lows and lower lows. Join me in remembering it with me, will you? At least, don’t leave me alone here.
The end of an era, and the beginning of errors. Started propitiously. Texas got four new congressional seats in the census, thanks to explosive population growth. Here is the American future! Not the state of yore, mind you. Titans fell: cocaine-fueled former East Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, who may have inadvertently caused 9/11 in between trips to Vegas, died, and former House majority leader Tom DeLay was convicted of money laundering. Perhaps now, a clean break.
Not so. In the year of the tea party, Texas Democrats, who had built up a machine for much of the previous decade to retake the state House, having come to the cusp of ultimate victory in 2008, turned it on, only to watch the thing shudder and explode, expelling lethal shards as far as Levelland. Popular Houston mayor Bill White ran a campaign against Rick Perry that could be wholly described as “adequate,” deployed a man in a chicken suit, and lost by thirteen points. Depressed Democrats surely could not have fathomed it would be their most impressive showing in a gubernatorial race all decade.
Thanks for reading Texas Monthly
On the Republican side, Kay Bailey Hutchison cannonballed into Rick Perry’s pool, only to find out he had filled it with itching powder. Running as a moderate in the gubernatorial primary, she racked up endorsements, started with a lead in polling, and got pulled apart at the sub-atomic level, a sign of how things were breaking. Not even a wave of stories documenting how Perry bought and sold real estate to political allies to make easy under-the-table cash derailed him. Republicans went from a 76-74 majority in 2008 to a 101-49 supermajority after 2010.
Americans of all stripes found themselves delighted by pictures of Corpus Christi’s newly minted congressman grinning ear to ear in adult baby fetishwear, posing with lingerie models. Not the state of yore, mind you. This, more than anything, set the tone for the years to come.
Rick Perry prayed for rain and prayed to be president, and got neither, despite bringing his case to the holiest of holies, Reliant Stadium. He did a big mistake during a TV debate, which was to defend undocumented college students in front of a Republican audience. That sunk his campaign. Some time later, he did another big goof-up. “Oops” became the go-to joke to make about Perry, which was a shame, because “he got a D in a class called ‘Meats’” is much funnier, even though it takes more time to say. This sunk his reputation, and also, curiously, his eyesight.
This was a good era to be a Perryfan. It produced not only exciting developments in the Perry canon, but also several essential Perry memes, such as this picture of him eating a corndog. Two books were added to the library. Fed Up!, cowritten by future congressman Chip Roy, which provided a handy list of principles the governor would abandon after 2016, came out at the end of the previous year. It was joined in 2011 by Head Figure Head: The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry, by the state’s first openly gay legislator, Glen Maxey. I am not allowed to say what it is about, because of Laws.
Closer to home, I liberated photos of Texas A&M-era Rick Perry from his college library, like de Gaulle arriving in Paris, beginning a tradition of hard-nosed, take-no-prisoners public accountability journalism that I continue to this day despite everyone’s fervent wishes that I stop.
More importantly, Comptroller Susan Combs projected in her revenue estimate that the Texas economy would fall apart. On this basis, the Legislature shredded the state’s budget, cutting $31 billion in spending and $5.4 billion from public education, causing school districts to lay off some 25,000 employees. The estimate turned out to be wildly wrong and the cuts, which were not fully reversed for years, totally unnecessary. It was an act of self-harm of magnificent proportions. Meanwhile, lawmakers legalized noodling.
Ron Paul’s ReLOVEution came and went. The Fed remained unaudited. Our reptilian masters continued to print fiat currency. His signs continued to paper Texas head shops for much of the decade.
Like Shane, a new hired gun appeared on the horizon. This one was from Alberta, and his name was Ted. Monsieur Cruz, an evidently smart fellow who would seem to have better things to do, traveled the state talking to every tea party activist he possibly could, appearing in small rooms where the dominant concerns included U.N. seed confiscation plans and plots to make guns gay. This worked, and the people of the land came to believe the strange Canadian would protect their seeds.
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, originally favored to win the Senate primary, did not attend very many of these meetings. This was the first sign that Dewhurst’s once-fabled political instincts were becoming rusty, perhaps from overuse.
The long winter of David Dewhurst turned into the sludgy spring of David Dewhurst, which yielded to David Dewhurst’s bummer summer and, ultimately, to David Dewhurst’s autumn of ennui. When the subject of abortion came up during a special session, the Dew bungled it, putting Wendy Davis in a position to filibuster the bill. During one of the first floor debates for the bill, Dewhurst slipped out for a wine and chicken dinner at a steakhouse, infuriating both Republican primary voters who hate wine and those who love steak. In August, he called up police in Allen to try to get a relative out of jail, who promptly released audio of the call. (Imagine somebody doing that to Bob Bullock and getting away with it.) In October, getting over his skis at a tea party event of the kind he skipped in ’12, called for Obama to be impeached.
The Davis filibuster inspired many women to don orange T-shirts and take control of the Senate chamber from the gallery, one of the most extraordinary events in the long history of the Legislature. Countless young women entered the political process as a result, just in time to be brutally disappointed the following year. People kind of lost their minds. “Per Lt. Esquivel, rumors are out there saying that the orange women will be taking off their clothes, urinating and defecating in the Senate gallery today,” wrote Susan Fafrak, an analyst in the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division of the Texas Fusion Center, in an email on Friday, July 12. “I am still searching form [sic] some sort of confirmation of this.”
On the afternoon of July 12, the Department of Public Safety issued a press release announcing that state troopers had seized one jar of urine and eighteen jars of feces, which is a lot of feces, when you stop to really think about it. Later, Dewhurst announced he “saw” troops smelling urine bottles and feces bags at security checkpoints. This became known as Poopgate. When media began asking where the poop was, DPS hurriedly contacted its officers to find someone who had come in contact with excrement. None of it ever happened. It was the first of two notable cases this decade in which the Legislature concerned itself with the location and disposition of human waste products.
In October, Cruz shut down the federal government, reading Green Eggs & Ham on the Senate floor. In Texas, U.S. Representative Steve Stockman continued to commit crimes.
Having reassembled the Democratic machine that blew up in 2010, Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas, trying once again to make a go of it, came home one night to find it emitting an unearthly blue glow that a Wikipedia search confirmed to be Cherenkov radiation. The area was sealed off, and technicians called, but not quickly enough. The core went critical, and the machine melted into the earth. It has not been seen since. When they’re sleeping at night, schoolchildren and dogs in the vicinity can sometimes hear an upsetting hum that seems to be coming from inside their walls, which honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Davis campaign went down to Governor Greg Abbott by twenty points.
There was not much glory elsewhere on the ballot. Indeed, there was mostly anti-glory. In the five-way Republican primary for the noble post of agriculture commissioner, only one person had real agricultural experience. He placed fifth. In the runoff, Sid Miller, whose campaign treasurer was Ted Nugent and who was dogged by allegations he had abused horses, bested fellow former state representative Tommy Merritt, helped by a rumor spread by his staffer that Merritt had been recorded having sex with a prostitute in the Capitol parking garage. One version of the rumor had Merritt doing the deed in his Mercedes, cleverly written to infuriate both Republican primary voters who disdain adultery and those who disdain Mercedeses.
On the Democratic side, there were three candidates. The guy the party wanted to win placed third. The runoff featured pot-smoking troubadour and self-styled Jewish cowboy Kinky Friedman and Jim Hogan, a Cleburne farmer who paid the filing fee and never campaigned. Happy to see him in the runoff, Hogan’s neighbors offered to campaign for him. No, Hogan said, don’t. There is no try, he said, like country Yoda: Try not. “You ever seen a goat eat a watermelon?” he asked. No, Texans said, but I think I’d like to. Hogan won the runoff, continued not to campaign, and performed just as well on the ballot as all the other statewide Democrats.
Dan Patrick, in a change of heart, announced his belief that “MARRIAGE = ONE MAN & ONE MAN.” Jerry Patterson mailed a copy of his voluminous opposition research file on Patrick to every journalist in the state, including extensive psychiatric records, marking the first and last time many people felt sympathy for Dan Patrick. Rick Perry got indicted and celebrated with frozen custard. David Dewhurst released an animated parody of that song from Frozen featuring B-roll of a shirtless Patrick being painted blue by two cheerleaders.
Texas was invaded by federales as part of Operation Jade Helm. When loons complained to the governor’s office, Abbott said he’d send the Texas State Guard to “monitor” the operation, to ensure that Texans’ bodily fluids remain intact. The fluids remained intact, and the secret tunnels under abandoned Walmarts were sealed before the portals to hell could be opened, but Greg Abbott was replaced by a look-alike Greg Abbott, one more subservient to federal directives. Jade Helm continues. The five-year plan is progressing.
State representative Molly White met Muslim visitors to her Capitol office with an Israeli flag and a request that they denounce terrorist groups before they met with her. Gun rights activists stormed a lawmaker’s office, forcing him to call DPS to remove them. One of them, rapper Kory Watkins, shouted at lawmakers that “treason is punishable by death.” State senator Bob Hall mobilized to protect Texas from EMPs. As he launched his presidential campaign, Ted Cruz told reporters that “my music taste changed on 9/11,” explaining that he found himself exchanging classic rock for country out of patriotic sentiment, a phenomenon he found “intellectually … very curious.” Houston hormone therapy merchant and Republican donor Steve Hotze whipped out a sword on stage and gave a speech about running gays through with God’s word. Approximately a third of the House Democratic Caucus got DUIs.
An unusually spiteful and malign election produced an unusually spiteful and malign legislative session, dominated by an excruciating debate on how and where people should urinate. People talked endlessly about it, into the wee hours of the morning. Adults, mind you, arguing about where the pee should go. Should it go in this toilet over here, or that toilet over there? Who knows. Who can say! It is a known unknown.
The debate about where the number ones and number twos should be deposited went on so long, and became so important for the people involved, that it spilled over into a special session, but not before one lawmaker threatened to shoot another one on the House floor. Matt Rinaldi of Irving told his Hispanic colleagues he’d called ICE on immigration protesters in the gallery, there to show their ire over a “show your papers” law passed earlier in the session. Angry, they got in his face about it. Rinaldi threatened to put a “bullet in the brain” of Poncho Nevárez, who’d been talking tough.
Greg Abbott cut some ribbons. Donald Trump put Rick Perry in charge of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. A prominent conservative political consultant in Texas rented his skills out to a German political party friendly with neo-Nazis. With Obama no longer around to beat up on, Texas elected officials turned their attention to a more pernicious enemy: the International Jew. The less said about things on the border the better. Things looked pretty bleak, my dudes, honestly I ran out of jokes on this one. This was pretty good, though.
A challenger descended from the west. Grown in a lab to oppose Ted Cruz, Robert “Roberto” O’Rourke possessed a number of qualities Cruz did not, namely that he was tall, had good taste in music, seemed pretty comfortable with himself, and looked good in a dress. But appearances can be deceiving. What looked to be a bid to win a Senate seat was actually an attempt to lubricate the economy of El Paso with the expense accounts of national magazine journalists, a strategy that made more sense thirty years ago than today but nonetheless succeeded despite Annie Leibovitz blowing most of her operational budget at the Old Kentucky Club in Juárez. Also, the race was pretty close, too.
Lupe Valdez completed the hat trick of dismal Democratic gubernatorial campaigns, prompting a confused state to ask: “Who?” and then, “Her?!” This was a bit unfair. The fact that a lesbian woman could run an extremely boring campaign for governor of Texas was a remarkable testament to how far the gay rights movement has come. Apart from that, the election was a rout of the Republican party, or as close to one gets in Texas. Harris County became the Houston Soviet, with a blue commissioners court and openly commie judges. (Though noted tankie Tony Buzbee would lose his campaign the following year.) A ton of Republicans retired, and others were defeated, like Pete Sessions, the Blimp King of North Texas. A lot of people in period-appropriate attire got mad that George P. Bush was doing something to the Alamo.
As the decade closed, Texas alternated between horror and farce. One of the most deadly acts of racist violence in the state in decades took place in an El Paso Walmart, which was disturbing enough without the realization that the language in the shooter’s manifesto was echoed by state leaders like Abbott and Patrick in the days and weeks before the massacre. This caused earnest self-reflection about what was to blame, to which the answer was “video games.”
Political careers exploded like popcorn kernels on a hot dashboard, especially in the Texas House. Dennis Bonnen locked down control of the lower chamber for as long as he’d care to have it, then stripped naked in a meeting with Michael Quinn Sullivan, asking him to draw him like one of his French girls. Having helpfully put his neck in the guillotine, he was forced to wait four months for the blade to fall. Rick Miller only had to wait a few hours for his summary execution, after he levied the same complaint about his primary challengers that David Duke might make at an anime convention: too many Asians. Poncho Nevárez dropped an envelope stuffed with cocaine at the Austin airport, copping to addiction problems, causing a lot of people to go, “Oh, that makes sense.”
Rick Perry took the notable anti-corruption skills he used to clean up Texas to Ukraine, on behalf of the president’s anti-corruption initiatives. He “encouraged” the government of Ukraine to put friends and campaign donors on the board of Ukraine’s national oil company, where they would have continued to help clean up corruption, if the Ukrainians hadn’t been such negative nancies about it.
Several Texans ran for president. O’Rourke’s and Julián Castro’s campaigns went nowhere fast, meaning that the state’s true winner in the Democratic primary is spectral orb mistress and Houston native Marianne Williamson, who at least sold some books out of this. Come to think of it, actually, Williamson might have got more out of this decade than most anyone else in Texas politics. Was she pulling the strings the whole time? It’s quite possible.