Monday, July 3, 2017

About that New Yorker anti-Texas Hatchet Job


"Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,"
1 Peter 2:1

Today, the New Yorker put out a looooooooooong article about the Texas legislature.  It would be easy to pander for clicks and dismiss the whole thing as "fake news," but it's more accurate to say that it uses half-truths to cast wildly a misleading impression (very similar to how the Austin Chronicle operates).  This is not intended as a comprehensive take-down, but to give a more accurate accounting of several claims made in the article.
  • The claim: "The state is as politically divided as the rest of the nation. One can drive across it and be in two different states at the same time: FM Texas and AM Texas. FM Texas is the silky voice of city dwellers, the kingdom of NPR. It is progressive, blue, reasonable, secular, and smug—almost like California. AM Texas speaks to the suburbs and the rural areas: Trumpland."

    Reality: This is stupid.  On the occasions we listen to terrestrial radio, we switch back and forth between AM and FM depending on the content.  Everyone we know does the same thing.
  • The claim: "The eleventh largest [city in the U.S., population wise] is Austin, the capital, where I live. For the past five years, it has been one of the fastest-growing large cities in America; it now has nearly a million people, dwarfing the college town I fell in love with almost forty years ago."

    Reality: Austin has been one of the fastest growing cities in the country for at least a quarter century.
  • The claim: "The state was always culturally conservative, religious, and militaristic, but a strain of pragmatism kept it from being fully swept up in racism and right-wing ideology."

    Reality: Setting aside the cheap shots embedded in the use of the words "militaristic" and "racism," the phrase "strain of pragmatism" is a euphemism for the corrupt good ol' boy network (ie. the Austin lobby) mixing business and government to protect incumbent industries from competition and put together shady real estate deals.
  • The claim: "While George W. Bush was governor, between 1995 and 2000, a cordial d├ętente between the political parties prevailed."

    Reality: Everyone's campaign contributors got paid...thank you very much Karl Rove.
  • The claim: "In January, 2003, the Republicans finally took over the Texas legislature, and Laney lost the speakership to Tom Craddick, an ultraconservative Republican from Midland, the oil capital.

    Reality: LOL, Tom Craddick "ultra-conservative."  Consider the following Empower Texans scores for Tom Craddick since he left the speakers chair.  2015: 81, 2013: 61, 2011: B+.  While that puts Craddick among the more conservative half of the GOP conference, that's hardly "ultra conservative" (Note: While Empower is holding the 2017 index until after the special session, it's worth pointing out that Craddick fell into the bottom half of the GOP conference in the Mark Jones index).
  • The claim: "When he entered the House, [Craddick] was twenty-five—the youngest member. “Back then, most of the other members were retired, and they ran for office as a civic duty,” he said. Now, at seventy-three, he is the longest-serving legislator in Texas history."

    Reality: That's an accurate statement, but we find it notable that the author doesn't have a problem with the fact that Tom Craddick has been in public office for nearly five decades.
  • The claim: "Another Republican congressman, Lamar Smith, lives in San Antonio, but his district includes—and neutralizes—the liberal area surrounding the University of Texas at Austin. Smith, a member of the Tea Party Caucus, in Washington, denies that human activity affects global warming."

    Reality: LOL, Lamar Smith "Tea Party."  We said our piece about Lamar Smith's record during the 2012 campaign.  Our full archive on Lamar Smith can be viewed here.
  • The claim: "In March, 2016, a man named Robert Morrow was elected the Republican Party chairman of Travis County, which contains Austin. Like many reporters in Texas, I received wild e-mails from Morrow for several years. He once claimed that George H. W. Bush was “a seriously addicted homosexual pedophile” who was also involved in a C.I.A. drug-smuggling ring with the Clintons. In 2011, Morrow took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper:
    HAVE YOU EVER HAD SEX WITH RICK PERRY?
    Are you a stripper, an escort, or just a “young hottie” impressed by an arrogant, entitled governor of Texas?
    Nothing came of the ad, which, Morrow said, was designed to expose Perry as “a Christian-buzzwords-spouting, ‘family values’ hypocrite and fraud.”
    Morrow, a fifty-three-year-old Princeton graduate with an M.B.A. from the University of Texas, describes himself as an independent investor. In 2015, he wrote a book with Roger Stone, the political operative and occasional adviser to Donald Trump, called “The Clintons’ War on Women.” The Austin American-Statesman noted that it appeared “to be serving as a playbook for Trump” in his attacks on Hillary Clinton. (Upon its publication, Trump tweeted, “The latest book on Hillary—Wow, a really tough one!”) Mainstream Party officials were mortified when Morrow won the Travis County election, with fifty-six per cent of the vote. They promised to “explore every single option that exists” to remove him from office. Morrow responded, “They can go fuck themselves.” In June, he tweeted, “Top priority for Travis GOP: beautiful Big Titty women!!”

    Reality: It's not a secret that Robert Morrow is a personal friend of this author, but for Robert Morrow to receive more discussion in this piece than Ted Cruz tells you everything you need to know.

    (As to the claims about George Bush 41, see here).
  • We don't want to waste your time making you read it, but there's a seven paragraph ode to Ann Richards about 30% of the way through the piece.
  • The claim: "Another emergency item on the Governor’s list for the 2017 session was ethics reform, but many legislators saw the move as hypocritical. Lyle Larson, a centrist Republican state representative from San Antonio, told me, “Some of the most egregious violations are in the governor’s office. It’s well known that pay-for-play has been going on in that office for years. For you to be on the Parks and Wildlife board, for instance, or to be a regent at the university, you have to make significant contributions”—to Abbott’s campaign fund."

    Reality: Empower Texans addressed the substance of Larson's claims here, but for the purposes of this piece we will simply note that the author accepted Larson's claim at face value.
  • The Claim: "Since [Dan] Patrick became lieutenant governor, one of his signature accomplishments has been the passage of the open-carry gun law; he also successfully pushed to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons on public-college campuses."

    Reality: LOLOLOL.  For as much as we appreciate Dan Patrick's political savvy in terms of knowing just how far and where he can push the political envelope given the cast of Senators he has to work with, the Second Amendment has easily been the issue where the Texas Senate's performance has fallen short(est).  The only reason open carry and campus carry passed (Note: two sessions ago; the lege didn't do anything noteworthy on 2A this past regular session) was because groups like Open Carry Texas and Lone Star Gun Rights made the issue too hot to ignore.
  • The Claim: "Patrick’s extremism is often countered by Joe Straus, the speaker of the House, a centrist, business-oriented conservative from San Antonio. Whereas the lieutenant governor is elected by the voters of the state, the speaker is chosen by the members. That makes a crucial difference in the way that Patrick and Straus govern."

    Reality: Given the extended discussion of Craddick earlier in the piece, one would think a mention of how Straus unseated Craddick might be relevant.  But for some reason, it doesn't appear.  Strange.
  • The Claim: "[T]here was no actual evidence of voter fraud."

    Reality: LOL; see here, and here, and here, and here (we could go on).
  • The Claim: "The business community in Texas fiercely opposed S.B. 6, and produced a report suggesting that its passage could cost the state up to eight and a half billion dollars. (PolitiFact determined that this figure was hyperbolic.)"

    Reality: The study in question was so laughably bad that it was instantly discredited; while we're on the subject, we find it notable that the author fails to discuss Kelly Hancock's brutal cross examination of the head of the Texas Association of Business.
  • The Claim: "On March 2nd, I returned to the capitol to have lunch with the speaker of the House, Joe Straus....[W]e sat down to plates of delicious crab cakes."

    Reality: It's a minor quibble, but we find it notable that, on Texas Independence day, Joe Straus was eating crab cakes instead of brisket.
  • The Claim: "[Straus'] speakership has focussed [sic] on providing the workforce and the infrastructure that Texas businesses need, by protecting public education, building roads, establishing more top-tier universities, and expanding job training. Perhaps his biggest victory was in 2013: in the middle of a devastating drought, he ushered through a two-billion-dollar revolving loan fund for state water projects.

    Reality: We said our piece about that monstrosity at the time.
  • The Claim: "With each session, Straus has watched the Republican Party drift farther away from the “compassionate conservatism” of the Governor Bush era and become increasingly dominated by Christian ideologues, such as Patrick, for whom economic issues are secondary."

    Reality: REALLY?!?  Who's the guy pushing property tax limits, tighter spending caps and a higher ed. tuition freeze?!?
  • The Claim: "Unlike Patrick, who decides which bills come to the floor in the Senate, Straus has to exercise influence by artfully appointing committee members, who can dull the fangs of fearsome bills (or let them languish until there’s no time to consider them)."

    Reality: That's completely true, they just normally don't say it out loud.
  • The Claim: "Meanwhile, [Straus] was pressing his own legislative agenda, which included securing additional funds for public schools"

    Reality: MOAR MONEY FOR SOCIALIZED EDUCATION!!!  Why didn't anyone think of that before?!?
  • The Claim: "Dr. John Zerwas, a Republican anesthesiologist from Richmond, Texas, is the chair of the Appropriations Committee. A business conservative in the Straus mold, he is deeply respected in the legislature, and Straus selected him to craft the House version of the budget."

    Reality: Only liberals respect John Zerwas.
  • The Claim: "Stickland is plump, with an imposing beard, narrow-set brown eyes, and an occasional broad smile revealing beautiful teeth."

    Reality: LOL; we've never paid attention to Jonathan Stickland's teeth, so we can't comment one way or the other.
  • The Claim: "As usual, the Texas legislature passed anti-abortion bills. One bans the safest and most common procedure for second-trimester abortions: dilation and evacuation. Supporters of the legislation call this a “dismemberment abortion.” "

    Reality: If you can stand to see it, learn more about dismemberment abortion here.
  • The Claim: "[A]s Texas’s liberal cities have burgeoned, the state has grown markedly less red."

    Reality: Texas has grown significantly redder over the past decade; while it's an open question whether that trend will continue with a Republican president, it doesn't change the facts of recent history.
  • The Claim: "On May 20th, Tom Mechler, the chairman of the state Republican Party, resigned, citing personal reasons. He issued a letter pleading for party unity. “A party that is fractured by anger and backbiting is a party that will not succeed,” he said. He also warned that the Republican Party had failed to attract voters outside the white demographic, and was therefore destined for electoral oblivion. “If we do not continue to make efforts to engage in the diverse communities across Texas, our state will turn blue,” he warned. He urged the next chairman to reshape the Party in the image of modern Texas.

    Soon after Mechler’s resignation, Rob Morrow—the former Travis County Republican Party chairman with the motley-fool hat—announced his candidacy for the statewide position.

    Reality: Another discussion of Robert Morrow, yet the author fails to mention James Dickey; odd.
    [
    Note: We wonder if the author attempted to speak to James Dickey at all?!?]
  • The Claim: "Drew Springer, the representative from North Texas who killed Stickland’s anti-hog-abatement amendment, pleaded for H.B. 810, which would fund experimental stem-cell treatments. He spoke on behalf of his wife, who is in a wheelchair. Such treatments “might give somebody like my wife a chance to walk,” he said, between sobs. “I’d trade every one of my bills I’ve passed, every single one, to get the chance to hear H.B. 810.” The Freedom Caucus gave in on this one, and it passed."

    Reality: We discussed Springer's stupid little speech at the time, we only bring it up because if you follow the link to the post from May we also included a list of issues Springer considered more pressing than his wife's alleged ability to walk.
  • The Claim: "The session concluded this year on Memorial Day, and so fallen soldiers were honored. Legislators said goodbye to colleagues with whom they had endured a hundred and forty of the most intense days of their lives.

    Meanwhile, buses began arriving at the capitol. Hundreds of protesters, some from distant states, burst through the doors, filling all four levels of the rotunda and spilling into the House gallery. They unfurled banners (“see you in court!”) and chanted, “S.B. 4 has got to go!” One of the protest organizers, Stephanie Gharakhanian, explained to reporters, “We wanted to make sure we gave them the sendoff they deserve.”
    A few of the Democrats in the chamber looked up at the chanting protesters and began to applaud. State troopers cleared the gallery and broke up the protest, but by that time some of the Republicans on the floor had taken offense. Matt Rinaldi, a member of the Freedom Caucus from Dallas County, who is sometimes rated the most conservative member of the House, later told Fox Business Network that he noticed several banners bearing the message “i am undocumented and here to stay.”

    Reality: This isn't a Rinaldi claim, there's video
Read the whole thing here.

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