Lord of the Idiots

The 2016 Presidential election has officially entered silly season. There are plenty of political issues on which, no matter how heated and recalcitrant my positions may be, I can understand that there are two realistic answers to the question. On others, however, the same simply cannot be said. Natural selection occurs, the world is more than 5000 years old and vaccines do not cause Autism. Just for good measure, the earth is also round and the sky is blue.

Unfortunately, two serious candidates for president from the Republican Party are having some serious problems accepting one of those axioms, specifically the one about vaccines. First, as The New York Times reports, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) defended parents who irresponsibly opt out of vaccinations such as measles for their children, saying that parents “need to have some measure of choice” in the matter. In doing so, he broke with President Barack Obama’s position, which is that all children should be vaccinated against preventable diseases.

Christie unsurprisingly received a barrage of criticism for his remarks, and despite attempts to walk back the remarks, the damage was done. But suddenly, a new contender has emerged: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

In an interview with NBC News, Paul spoke frankly about his views on immigration. A reputed civil libertarian, Paul took exception with the alleged individual liberty violations inherent in mandatory inoculations. Most troubling, Paul lent his support to the deleterious hoax that vaccines can cause profound mental disorders such as autism.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he said in his CNBC interview.

This doesn’t happen. He would have been better off saying that a magical unicorn deposits gold ingots in his backyard; at least, that way, nobody would have their health put at risk because of his baldfaced lies. There was one study linking Autism and vaccines (specifically the MMR one). It was discredited, many times. The doctor in question had his license revoked, and eventually retracted the entirety of his findings. It has since come out that he just fabricated the whole thing.

Why Paul, a medical doctor, would support such preposterous dribble is beyond comprehension.

Mandatory vaccinations should be self-explanatory. Individuals with compromised immune systems or other serious ailments often cannot manage the stress of receiving a vaccination (which is minimal for those with functional immune systems), so they must rely on herd immunity. Those who can vaccinate but do not selfishly put those who cannot at risk. It is not just foolish, it is negligent and hurtful.

I never thought we would actually have to defend the validity of the measles vaccine in a presidential election. What century is this? Say what you want about Rick Perry, but his unequivocal and succinct response to all this silliness was absolutely spot-on. His partisan compatriots should learn a thing or two.

The AL4 cast shows up

The Houston Chronicle reports that a few new names have been added to the candidate roster for one of the Houston City Council’s open At-Large seats, specifically position #4, which is held by term-limited Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4). The seat has recently been held by a series of African-American representatives; even lead the standard-bearing Chronicle has noted this. Back in December, I noted that Laurie Robinson — a previous candidate for the city council — will be running for this position. Now, two more names have entered the fold: Amanda Edwards and Larry Blackmon.

Edwards is an attorney at a downtown blue-chip firm, whereas Blackmon is a retired teacher. Both have a number of connections in the local political scene, but they are not especially significant compared to Robinson’s. All three are fairly dependable Democrats, but each have ways of distinguishing themselves. Robinson, for example, ran against a fellow Democratic Councilmember, Jolanda Jones (AL5), when she ran in 2011 (Councilmember Jack Christie (R-At Large 5) also ran, and was the eventual winner). I was not old enough to vote in that election, but I covered the races with some familiarity, and would have voted for Robinson if I had been eligible. She garnered the endorsement of The Young Independents Club of Emery High School, for what it’s worth.

As the Chronicle article notes, this activity is relatively recent compared to the other open At-Large seat, position #1, which is being vacated by term-limited Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), who is also running for mayor. In that race, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis, HCC Trustee Chris Oliver, Trebor Gordon, Michael “Griff” Griffin, Philippe Nassif and Jenifer Pool will face off.

For the other At-Large races, there aren’t many surprises. Former Councilmember Andrew Burks (D-At Large 2) will seek a rematch against Councilmember David Robinson (D-At Large 2), who defeated him in 2013. Councilmember Michael Kubosh (R-At Large 3) will cruise to re-election with minimal or nonexistent opposition. Perhaps the most intriguing contest is the last at-large position. Christie is reportedly running for mayor, or at least seriously thinking about it, even though he is still eligible for one more term. If he does run, it will create a third open seat. I know of one individual who is all-but-officially running for AL5, Christie or not, but I am not sure if she is willing to go on record yet. For those of you asking, my father will not be running again for the post.

As for AL4 in particular, I have two main thoughts. The first is to not be surprised if yet another candidate jumps in. I have heard about one individual in particular who has intently been looking over the race, and could really make a splash. Second, we officially have a citywide contest with more than one female candidate! In a city where the majority of the council was once comprised of women, female participation in elected municipal office has precipitously dropped. Zero women are, at press time, running for either Mayor or City Controller; a frightfully sad statistic.

In the next few days, when I have time, I will create one of my perennial side pages in preparation for the 2015 Election. Stay tuned!

Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Off the Kuff have more.

In the shadow of the Tower

I have five classes on Tuesdays. Combined with some shuffling back and forward to my office at The Daily Texan (speaking of which, I recently received a new title there), this meant a full day of walking around campus. By my estimations, I walked past the Main Mall, just in front of the Tower, about a half dozen times. One such time was a little past 11:45 in the morning, as I was leaving Astronomy and (unsuccessfully) attempting to not be late to Japanese Politics. About 48 1/2 years ago, at that exact time, I would have been in the crosshairs of a psychopathic sniper named Charles Whitman, who had barricaded himself at the top of the observation deck and started shooting at random, murdering 17 people in all that day.

Now, as the Houston Chronicle reports, legislators are determined to liberalize gun laws on college campuses all around the states, including at UT-Austin. Specifically, 19 of the 20 Republicans in the state senate co-sponsored SB11, which would do exactly that (the one exception was State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County)). It would mainly allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to bring the weapons to campuses.

I wrote somewhat extensively about this topic throughout the 83rd Legislature. In a wonderful example of how much things can change in just two years, I was opining back then all the way from Boston, instead of actually on the 40 acres. At the time, the bill passed the House but got lost in the Senate. Since that does not look to happen again this time, I would say get ready for this horrendous proposal to get enacted into law.

The reason I reference the Tower sniper attack in my introduction is not to suggest that this will open the floodgates to more mass shootings. Rather, it is to demonstrate the futility of such a proposal. Say, for example, one of the students had a legally concealed handgun. The likelihood of him or her effectively firing at the top of the tower and subduing Whitman would have been quite low.

The Daily Texan has an editorial, coming to print tomorrow morning, that addresses most of the other points on “Guns on Campus” one way or another, but the main argument remains the same: this is a spectacularly bad idea. As time goes on, I will continue to closely follow these bills.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has announced that the “Open Carry” proposals currently do not have the votes to move the legislation. He also implied to the Tribune that other priorities would likely come first. This has drawn the ire of right-wing grassroots.

Patrick finalizes Senate committees

The Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has finalized committee assignments in the senate for the 84th Legislature. Making good on two longstanding committees, Patrick both consolidated the number of committees and significantly reduced the number of Democratic chairs for those committees that remained. Three committees (Government Organization, Jurisprudence and Open Government) got the ax, and a further two committees (Economic Development and Natural Resources, respectively) were merged. This had the overall effect of slashing the total number of committees from 18 to 14.

All three folded committees had been chaired in the 83rd session by Democrats, as did a further three committees. Thus, 1/3rd of the committees had Democrats at the helm, roughly the proportion of the chamber controlled by the minority party. Patrick kept State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County), the dean of the chamber, in charge of the Criminal Justice Committee, a position he has held for many years. He also tapped State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Cameron County) as the chair of Intergovernmental Relations, a rather low-ranking post. Reportedly, this was an olive branch extended to the upper house’s most centrist Democrat. Lucio was the one Democrat this past week to vote for the elimination of the 2/3rds rule, as well as for the omnibus anti-abortion bill HB2 (the one Wendy Davis filibustered) in 2013.

Among other important picks and retentions was State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) staying on as the chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Seliger has been, according to the Tribune article, an “occasional critic” of the Lieutenant Governor. He also is especially pro-Bill Powers and anti-Wallace Hall, for what it’s worth. State Senators Robert Nichols (R-Cherokee County) and Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County), respectively, also retained their chairmanships (Transportation and Business & Commerce, respectively).

State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County), a two-time chair in the 83rd (Agriculture & Rural Affairs and State Affairs), was stripped of both titles. Harvey Kronberg at Quorum Report opined this could be because Estes was the sole Republican against the 2/3rds rule’s demise. Estes was replaced at Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County), a freshman. I found it somewhat interesting and telling that the one freshman tapped was not a right-wing activist like State Senators Don Huffines (R-Dallas County), Konni Burton (R-Tarrant County) or Bob Hall (R-Van Zandt County), to name a few.

Finally, all eyes were on the Senate Education Committee, of which Patrick previously chaired when he served in the upper chamber. He selected State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston County) as the replacement, which garnered a wide variety of responses. Breitbart Texas appears particularly stoked. Many observers prognosticate that Patrick — now flanked by Taylor — will pursue a wide variety of educational reforms, including a more extensive use of vouchers for charter and private schools.

Say what you want about Patrick, but his first few days in office have featured nothing but him staying true on his word. Unfortunately, that means he was not bluffing on the campaign trail about implementing a very conservative agenda if sent to high office.

This is just a preview of things to come. Patrick is looking more and more like a boisterous and powerful lieutenant governor (the anti-Dewhurst, if you will). Meanwhile, Abbott looks as though he may not continue Perry’s mega-powerful theme. Texas politics may very well regress back to the mean, with a more powerful lieutenant governor and a less powerful governor. Still, don’t be surprised if Patrick runs for governor (and wins) in 2018.

Garcia looks to run for Mayor

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the highest ranking Democrat in Harris County (and arguably the state), is taking decisive steps toward running for mayor. Garcia, who previously served as a member of the Houston City Council from 2004 to 2008, has been the Sheriff for two-terms. Under state law, the instant he announces his intention to run, Garcia will be compelled to resign. This would have the effect empowering the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, which sways 4-1 Republican, with the ability to appoint his successor.

Garcia has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate before, but only recently have his advisers become more frank with reporters about his probable intentions. With sky-high name ID, at least compared to some of the other pretenders to the throne, Garcia would have the ability to immediately become one of the top candidates.

In other mayoral news, former Congressman Chris Bell has officially announced his run (via Facebook). A more formal event will occur somewhere in Houston this weekend. Among others in the definite column are State Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Harris County), former Mayor of Kemah Bill King, City Councilmembers Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), Oliver Pennington (R-District G), former City Attorney Ben Hall and Marty McVey. There are quite a few others who are still maybes.

Garcia has some baggage that would accompany the run, to say the least. Last fall, the Sheriff’s office received some indescribably bad press around the world when an inmate was kept in subhuman conditions. In the rough and tumble world of municipal politics, I expect this issue to come up more than once.

I like Garcia a lot (I happily voted for him 2012) and think he would do great in some higher offices, namely County Judge. But resigning his position like this for a long-shot mayoral race is not the correct course of action, especially when his replacement as sheriff will likely be significantly more conservative and could easily rescind some of the valuable progress made in the Sheriff’s office recently. In my opinion, to do so is rather selfish.

The addition of Garcia to the list also does not change my prediction of the most-likely runoff participants; it is still Turner and Pennington. Unfortunately, the Hispanic community in Houston, which would likely be Garcia’s main base, just does not vote with any strength whatsoever in municipal elections. Given the plethora of other candidates who will be competing for every inch of the electorate, I just do not see a plausible pathway to victory for Garcia. But that’s why we have elections, I suppose.

Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos and Off the Kuff have more.

The Rick Perry legacy

Tomorrow, Governor-elect Greg Abbott will take the reigns from Rick Perry and officially become just ‘Governor Abbott.’ For the first time since the Clinton administration, Texas will have a new governor. Indeed, Perry has served in office for more than 14 years, shattering all the old records set by his predecessors.

I’ve been putting off writing about this, because I do not necessarily feel qualified to editorialize about political events that transpired in 2000 or 2001. I was six years old when Perry assumed office, so opining on some of Perry’s first acts would be a lot like my father talking about his experience in observing Dwight Eisenhower or Allan Shivers’ respective tenures in office.

Perry, of course, took office on December 21st, 2000, the day that George W. Bush resigned the governorship in preparation to become president. Perry had served as the Lieutenant Governor since 1999, and previously served two terms as Agriculture Commissioner from 1991 to 1999. He also served two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, from 1985 to 1991, the first two of which as a Democrat.

I’m not going to meticulously go over the ebbs and flows of his time in office, others have done a much better job at that. Rather, I want to examine two ideas about Perry that have always stayed with me from his time in office. Contrary to what some may expect from me, they are actually quite positive.

If this makes sense, Perry is an ideologue –but in a good way. When he first took office, his co-leaders were quite different. The Speaker of the House, Pete Laney, was a Democrat, and the acting Lieutenant Governor, State Senator Bill Ratliff (R-Titus County), was a tremendously moderate Republican who could absolutely not succeed in one of his party’s primaries today (think Nelson Rockefeller, except from East Texas). After the conclusion of the 77th Legislature in 2001, Perry vetoed a record number of bills. Even when compared to Ratliff’s successor, David Dewhurst, Perry was right-wing.

Today, however, Perry is seen as an establishment figure. Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram opined that he could run for president as the “anti-Cruz,” a more pragmatic establishment type. Compared to, as of tomorrow, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick or Attorney General Ken Paxton (or even Abbott), Perry is on the moderate side of his party. Obviously, the governor did not tack to the left in an era when so many others zoomed the other way. On the other hand, Perry has a firmly planted set of core beliefs, which does not change because of partisan winds. Love him or hate him, that’s an admirable quality, one that is less and less common in successful politicians.

Second, Perry — at his core — always appears to have all of Texas at heart. Sure, there was the rampant cronyism/corruption. But any even rudimentary student of Texas political history knows that is the rule and not the exception. Unlike Abbott or Patrick, in my opinion, Perry genuinely believed what he was doing would be good for the average Texan (as much as he may have been mistaken in some instances), not the average Republican primary voter.

I have found myself agreeing more and more with the band of Democrats who feel that Perry’s successors will be considerably worse than him, and we will one day covet the comparable pragmatism in the Perry administration. There is certainly some truth in this, but it is important to not get carried away.

Perry pushed through venal so-called “tort reform” that lobotomized much of our court system, including the resurgence of cruddy legal jurisprudence typically only found in Great Britain. He was instrumental in the horrendous gerrymandering scheme that reduced 90%+ of legislative districts to uncompetitive backwaters. More recently, he vigorously pushed the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and he attempted to coerce an unfriendly prosecutor into resigning by threatening (and following through) to veto funding (this is what he was indicted regarding).

Obviously, Texas can’t get much worse off on many fronts, but on others it surely can. Perhaps most horrifying about Abbott and his ilk is that they have no central moral principles, nothing preventing them from grandstanding and demagoguery in the face of an increasingly extreme minority that monopolizes the political process. When they start demanding book burnings or the rescinding of the bill of rights, Perry would have rightly put his foot down. Abbott and Patrick, to the contrary, I’m unsure about.

Adios, mofo. We’ll miss you (sort of).

Supreme decision

The New York Times reports that the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a set of legal challenges to states’ bans on performing or recognizing gay marriage. The decision reversed a trend of the court from earlier this term of letting these cases stand at the lower level. The difference this time was that the Court of Appeals in this specific case, the Sixth Circuit (MI, OH, KY, TN) recently upheld the constitutionality of the bans, thus creating a split at the appellate level.  The case will examine two basic questions. First, may a state ban gay marriage? Second, may a state refuse to recognize valid gay marriages performed in other states?

Most commentators expect the court to strike down the laws, thus bringing gay marriage nationwide (thus Texas). Two years ago, in the case Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court specifically punted on the issue and found the intervenor-plaintiffs lacking standing. And while Windsor v. United States, which struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, largely relied upon federalism, it has been used as the primary vehicle for lower courts to strike down bans on constitutional grounds.

Last year, a District Court Judge in San Antonio struck down Texas’ ban on gay marriage, and a bipartisan panel of the 5th Circuit recently heard that challenge –and appeared willing to uphold that decision. Texas Monthly has a truly great article on that. Accordingly, even though gay marriage may very likely come nationwide by the end of June, it could come to Texas even before then.

Prognosticating on Supreme Court decisions is truly a fool’s errand. But just to be silly, I tend to think that the case will be 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the four liberals. Kennedy’s reasoning in Windsor would just be contradicted at a very basic level if he upheld bans. And Roberts, obsessed as he is with the court’s reputation, simply could not be in the dissent.

Every Governor in the Sixth Circuit is praying tonight that their state’s case is not selected, thus enshrining their name for posterity as the Ferguson, the Board of Education of Topeka, the Heart of Atlanta Motel for this generation.

This case, be it Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder or Bourke v. Beshear, will go down in history as one of the preeminent civil rights cases of our time. I say bring it on!