Boo! The Nightmare in Texas
Happy Halloween! In honor of the World Series between the Astros and the Phillies, we’re tripping around the bases of the absurd, the depressing and the obscene in Texas politics.
First Base: Elections 2022: Who’s observing the “observers?”
Texas Secretary of State John Scott sent a letter to Harris County on Tuesday the 18th, less than a week before early voting began, announcing that he “will send a team of inspectors and election security trainers to observe and help administer the Nov. 8 election in the state's largest metropolitan area.” To add insult to injury, the letter said that representatives from the office of Twice-Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is on the ballot and seeking reelection, also will be present.
Now, John Scott seems be a nice guy, trying to do a job made incressingly hard by the nutcases running the political party of which he is a member, and specifically by the nutcase who's his boss – Greg Abbott – for whom no political stunt is too costly or craven. It's very possible that Scott was drawn into this by Abbott. I mean, if you can suppress the vote in Harris County, you have a better chance of winning your nail-biter re-election, right?
Anyway, county leaders and voting rights groups immediately cried foul. On Thursday (10/20), Houston and Harris County leaders sent a letter to the Justice Department, asking it to send federal monitors to, among other things, keep an eye on the state monitors.
"[The Secretary of State’s] actions appear designed to chill voters' trust in the election process in Harris County, and to disrupt and intimidate local election workers as they execute their duties to ensure the 2022 election is ‘smooth and secure,' as the Texas Secretary of State described the 2020 election at the time," the letter states.
Then on Tuesday the 25th, the day after early voting started, Twice-Indicted Attorney General Paxton announced the formation of the inauspiciously-named 2022 General Election Integrity Team:
The foundation of our constitutional republic is a secure and transparent ballot. It’s why my office remains ever vigilant in defending the integrity of our elections. And it’s why I’m establishing a 2022 General Election Integrity Team.
Remember, this guy to this day denies the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election. Rarely do the words “Paxton” and “integrity” appear in the same paragraph.
Anyway, the 2022 G.E.I.T. is going to be a robust undertaking: it will “monitor a public email address dedicated to receiving information about alleged violations of the Texas Election Code." According to the Weatherford Democrat, “Paxton said his office will monitor the email account ‘at all times’ and is ‘prepared to take action’ where appropriate.” This is in spite of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ recent ruling that “the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud.”
Second Base: You’re gonna get vouchers and, by God, you’re gonna like them.
The push for vouchers – taxpayers dollars diverted from public education into private schools – has been orthodoxy in Texas GOP politics for half a century now. Voucher proposals come under a variety of names – school choice, education savings accounts, education freedom scholarships, tax credit scholarships. (A helpful taxonomy of voucher proposals can be found here.) At their heart is a simple scheme: send taxpayer dollars to private or sectarian schools, but without the meddlesome accountability for how the dollars are spent.
None of these proposals have passed. The biggest political challenge for vouchers in Texas is rural voters and their representatives. Notwithstanding the rosy promises of for-profit school companies and their lobbyists, rural voters understand a) there will never be a private school in Muleshoe, Texas, and b) therefore, their tax dollars will be diverted from their local schools – frequently the biggest employers and most important institutions in their communities – to private schools in big cities and suburbs. For this reason, rural and many suburban voters oppose vouchers, as do their elected representatives.
Never ones to acknowledge reality, our leaders have restored vouchers as an issue in this election. Greg Abbott endorsed them back in May, unironically claiming that “[w]e can fully fund public schools while also giving parents a choice about which school is right for their child.” Heck, not even the first part of that sentence is true. Dan Patrick quickly followed suit, saying: “We can support school choice and, at the same time, create the best public education system in America.” This time, it was the latter half of the sentence that was crazy talk. In 2018-19, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the State paid only 44% of the cost of public education – a far cry from “fully funding public schools.”
Third Base: Finally, we’re doing something about school shootings. Sorta.
Sane Texans’ everywhere hoped that something – anything! – good could come out of the senseless and tragic Uvalde Massacre (for which we deserve to burn in hell), and those hopes finally were addressed this week. No, it wasn’t raising the age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21 (which, by the way, is the minimum age to buy a handgun). No, it wasn’t stronger background checks. It wasn’t even holding accountable the 370+ law enforcement officers who cowered on the scene while children were killed.
Instead, Texans heaved a sigh of relief when the Texas Education Agency announced it was sending DNA/fingerprint kits out through local schools so parents would have something to help identify their children’s bodies after a mass shooting. I am not making this up.
It turns out that one of the features (not a bug) of semiautomatic weapons and the bullets they spray is that the victim’s body is often rendered into an unrecognizable goop. Such was the grisly fate of Uvalde victim Maite Rodriguez, who could only be identified by the green Converse tennis shoes with a heart drawn on one of the toes that she wore.
It seems unlikely that the DNA kits will help prevent more school massacres. I can’t imagine a potential shooter would pull up short, thinking, “But what if they could identify the bodies?” Instead, the DNA strategy seems more aimed at preventing the media storm that followed Maite’s tennis shoes and their brief tenure as symbols of the cruel inhumanity of her death.
In fairness to the TEA, the DNA kits were originally mandated under a 2021 law whose intent was to reduce child trafficking. But, issued as they were within weeks of the Uvalde Massacre, much of the media and many citizens reasonably concluded their purpose was to assist in the identification of mass shooting victims. For which, sadly, the kits will still prove useful.
Home Base: America in decline
Once upon a time, we believed we had a destiny as a nation. Call it what you will – Manifest Destiny, American Empire, the Shining City on a Hill, American exceptionalism, “the last best hope of earth,” etc. – we thought we represented something special on this Earth and in human history. That sense of destiny united and inspired us through what is now known as the American Century.
Do we believe that anymore? Or have we just given up on having some world-changing role, and now are fighting over the scraps of our accelerating decline? There certainly seems to be evidence of decline. Internationally, the rise of China and, more broadly, the Far East as economic rivals. The continuing fustercluck that is the Mideast, layered over our endless thirst for oil. War in Ukraine and the challenges of holding together the NATO coalition. Domestically, we see a dramatic increase in partisanship and tribalism, in the context of a coarser public life. The return of isolationism. High levels of individual sadness and anger in our lives.
We do not seem happy with our place in the world. We certainly do not feel secure. What is to be done to renew our national spirit? I’d love to see your comments about this.
As I write, the Astros are winning Game 3 of the World Series. Go 'Stros!