This year, a drop in the price of oil and a rise in population augured substantial cutbacks and a struggle to meet the health and safety needs of citizens. When I visited the capitol in January, a group of high-school girls stood on a terrazzo mosaic in the middle of the rotunda.
Cons find their beliefs under attacks by another tiny, insular group of arrogant professionals—the National Education Association—that stands above democratic control, and they look for relief in vouchers, homeschooling, or private religious schools. What windmill to tilt at next? A cool time-lapse video of Manhattan traffic, etc. It is the only time I can recall defying my father: I opened the door and climbed back in the car. There has been some controversy about Obama inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Also up this week - the governor of Vermont is expected to veto the same-sex marriage bill today after the Senate approves the House version , then override votes should be tomorrow.
In the center was the seal of the Republic of Texas, a lone star wreathed in branches of olive and live oak. On the walls of the rotunda hang portraits of our former governors. When a portrait arrives at the end of the circle on the ground floor, it moves to the wall of the floor above, and then higher and higher and further into obscurity. The next portrait that will ascend from the lobby is that of W. He passed himself off as a rube, but he was a savvy operator. He had become famous as the host of a radio show in which he performed with his band, the Light Crust Doughboys.
Radio was his Twitter. His only real platform was to stir things up. In his first race, he defeated eleven contenders, without a runoff. As governor, he reneged on promises he had made to abolish the death penalty, block the sales tax, and raise pensions. He was terribly ineffectual but such a compelling showman that, in , voters sent him to the U.
Senate over a young man named Lyndon Johnson—the only election Johnson ever lost. Of all the governors on the rotunda walls, Ann Richards, who served from to , was the most memorable, at least in my lifetime.
She became a national figure when, as the state treasurer, she gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth. Her rise to governor, as a recovered alcoholic and a divorced mother of four, was a near-miracle. He blew that lead with a series of character-revealing gaffes.
In that instant, he lost the election. Richards wore designer suits but picked her teeth, and she cleaned her fingernails with a Swiss Army knife. She always seemed a little surprised to find herself in the seat of power, but she cherished the comedy of the play she was cast in. Ivins once told me that, after the A. Richards had the most amazing drawl—devastatingly comic, but with a cut-the-crap edge to it.
Once, we both took part in a fund-raiser at the Four Seasons in Austin, and the writer Kinky Friedman—who is also the lead singer of Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys—seized the opportunity to tell a story about going to the beach with a family friend, who wore a swimsuit that was so tight it squeezed one of his balls into view.
Texas has a reputation for being super-religious, but there has always been a tolerance for the sexual misdemeanors of elected officials. Charlie Wilson, the U.
He was elected to twelve terms. She surrounded herself with a coterie of very powerful women, which led to countless innuendos about her sexual orientation.
Bush, marking the end of the Democratic Party as a force of any consequence in the state. Texans are notorious for loving guns, but when I was young it was illegal for residents to carry weapons outside their home or vehicle. At first, everyone thought that it was a freakish accident. Then Hennard shot a customer. Suzanna Hupp, a chiropractor, was having lunch with her parents.
Her father confronted the shooter, but he was shot. Hupp told her mother that they needed to make a break for it, then climbed out a rear window. When she looked back, she realized that her mother had gone to comfort her dying husband. He shot fifty people, killing twenty-three of them before killing himself. Perry was jogging at the time, but naturally he was packing heat: a. Many of the people who breeze through are lawmakers and staffers who tote concealed weapons into offices or onto the floor of the legislature.
But some lobbyists and reporters have also obtained gun licenses, just to skirt the lines. I recently got one myself. One winter day at the capitol, early in the session, I was bypassing the metal detectors when Governor Abbott rushed by in his wheelchair. At fifty-nine, he is an energetic man; his aides were racing across the rotunda to keep up with him.
Abbott was a track star in high school—he is said to have never lost a race—but in a tree fell on him while he was jogging through the wealthy enclave of River Oaks, in Houston, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. He had just graduated from law school and had no health insurance. Fortunately, he won a nine-million-dollar judgment against the homeowner whose tree had fallen and the company that had inspected the tree and failed to recommend its removal.
Later, Abbott, as a member of the Texas Supreme Court, and then as attorney general, supported measures that capped pain-and-suffering damages in medical-malpractice cases at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Every statewide officeholder in California is a Democrat; in Texas, none are. The obsession with California puzzles me. The newspapers often feature gloating stories about the number of Californians fleeing to Texas eight per day to Austin alone , as an indication of the vast superiority of the Texas way of life.
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Bush, he clearly has similar ambitions. In January, when the legislative session began, he latched on to a proposal, already adopted by ten other states, to call a constitutional convention aimed at reining in the power of the federal government. Abbott rebranded it as the Texas Plan.
It would require the federal government to balance its budget, as Texas does, and would prohibit federal agencies—such as the E.
Under the Texas Plan, the U. Supreme Court would need a supermajority of seven Justices to strike down a state law. Abbott designated the Texas Plan an emergency item, and it quickly passed the legislature and was signed into law, worrying mainstream Republican lawmakers in Washington, who fear that, in the current political climate, such efforts could lead to a runaway assault on federal authority. Any suggestion to the contrary is absurd. In Texas, the lieutenant governor is also the president of the Senate, and, because the Senate currently has a Republican majority, Patrick has total control over it.
He appoints bills to specific committees, and no legislation comes onto the floor without his say-so. He is unquestionably the most important political figure in the state. During his radio days, Patrick developed a knack for self-promotion; he once got a vasectomy on the air. He now owns a radio station in Houston. Clever and relentless, Patrick brought with him to Austin the AM Texas platform of anti-abortion absolutism and hostility to same-sex marriage and undocumented immigrants.
He was first elected to the Senate in , running as an outsider. Patrick crushed three well-known candidates in the Republican primary, and won the general election with nearly seventy per cent of the vote.
Since 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. Patrick has driven his chamber in a far more radical direction. Even Democratic senators are loath to cross him. 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.
The session in Austin proved to be a bruising example of raw politics waged by two talented people, Straus and Patrick, who fervently believe in their causes. The story in Texas both reflects and influences the national scene. Politicians seldom pay a price for the damage that their legislation may do in the name of popular causes, such as declaring war or slashing taxes at the expense of vital social programs.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, more than four hundred Texans are killed every year in crashes related to distracted driving, often because they are texting. To my surprise, the sponsor of the bill that Perry vetoed was Tom Craddick, the ultraconservative former speaker. This year, he put the measure forward again, for the fourth time.
Thirteen people were killed. The driver of the truck was twenty-year-old Jack Dillon Young, who was largely unhurt. The accident was one of many that might have been prevented had Governor Perry signed the texting bill into law. The long-term goal of cultural conservatives is to cut off access to abortion in Texas, to end state subsidies for birth control, and to gut state funding for Planned Parenthood—which, in , served sixty per cent of the health needs of low-income women in the state.
Eighty-two family-planning clinics subsequently shut down. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the nation, and, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, about seventeen per cent of Texan women and girls live in poverty. After the family-planning budget was cut, there was a disproportionate rise in births covered by Medicaid, because so many women no longer had access to birth control. By defunding Planned Parenthood, the legislature also blocked many women from getting scans for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
In May, , Governor Perry, who was gearing up for his first Presidential race, signed a bill requiring all women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram at least twenty-four hours before the procedure. Nonetheless, the bill passed in the House, — Between and , the proportion of women who died in childbirth in Texas doubled, from These figures represent six hundred dead women. Obesity, heart disease, drug overdoses, and a lack of health insurance—all serious problems in the state—play a role.
The mystery might be cleared up if Governor Abbott released records about how these women died.