Civil Affairs: Death Penalty


Texas leads the pack when it comes to capital punishment. Since the start of this year, the Department of Criminal Justice has ended the lives of seven people, with yet an eighth execution scheduled for early next month. In comparison, the other 49 states combined have put to death 12 people in that time. Once again, as is assumed, the status quo of this horrifyingly beloved institution still looks to be popular. Recent polling consistently shows upwards of 60 percent support, including majorities on both sides of the aisle. However, controversy over the source of execution drugs has kept this issue in the limelight of the gubernatorial election.

Gov. Rick Perry, under whose watch almost 300 prisoners have been executed, openly brags about how much “justice” has been accomplished throughout his lengthy administration. However, both parties’ nominees to succeed him as governor, disappointingly, appear to share that sentiment.

“I support capital punishment and I believe that, as it has worked in this state, it’s been one that has provided due process in a way that I think we all would hope would occur,” said Wendy Davis, a state senator and the Democratic candidate for governor.



Civil Affairs: Collier


If there is any consistency in Texas politics, it’s about taxation. The Republican Party sees it as pure evil — and no, that is not hyperbole. The Texas GOP’s platform advocates for the repeal of the 16th amendment, which allows for a federal income tax, and for the total abolition of capital gains and property taxes, among others. Accordingly, when a Democrat rants and raves about a Republican opponent wanting to raise taxes, it should raise more than a few eyebrows.

Mike Collier, the Democratic nominee for Comptroller, which is the state’s chief treasury and financial official, recently accused his Republican opponent, State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Harris County, of wanting to engage in a massive tax hike. A recent television ad by Collier pledged to “hold the lines on taxes.” So, for a party so hell-bent on dismantling sources of government revenue, how on earth could one of its candidates be accused of raising them?

Hegar, like his party, is in favor of abolishing property taxes, although they are the largest single source of revenue for local governments in this state. Specifically, municipalities and school districts receive inordinate amounts of their revenue from such sources. Texas’ property taxes are high compared to the rest of the country, but they occur in the complete absence of a state income tax — something few other states boast.


Civil Affairs: McCutcheon

Nearly two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled, in a closely divided case — McCutcheon v. FEC — that political donors have the right to give a certain amount of money to as many candidates as they like. Previously, federal law had prevented a donor from providing the maximum donation ($2,600 for a candidate, $5,000 to a political action committee and $32,400 to a political party) to more than roughly 19 candidates or 15 PACs. Now, those donors can give those aforementioned individual limits to as many candidates, committees and interest groups as they wish.

The 5-4 decision rested upon the assertion that, under the First Amendment, money is tantamount to speech. Using that assumption, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that, despite its unpopularity, the right to give money to as many politicians as you choose is fundamentally constitutional. Of course, spending money should not be a universal right like worship or speech because not everyone has the pocketbook needed.

“Money in politics may, at times, seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Roberts wrote in a decision joined by the four other justices nominated by Republican presidents. “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”


Civil Affairs: Abbott


Prevailing wisdom on political campaigns dictates that candidates should run to the fringes of their political party in order to appease their base in the primary election. Then, candidates should sway back toward the middle of the road for the general election in an attempt to court independents and undecided voters.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for President, most notably used this strategy, admittedly to an absurd extreme.

However, most candidates vying in a competitive election, be it a presidential or state contest, employ this method.

One notable exception is Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican candidate for governor this November. Abbott does not look to be realigning toward the center in preparation for the general election, in a high-stakes gamble that could either prove disastrous for him or devastating for Democrats.

On March 4, Abbott won the Republican primary for Governor with more than 90 percent of the vote. During the eight-month lead-up to his primary victory, Abbott took increasingly extreme political positions in an effort to both woo Tea Party voters and drive Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken — a prospective candidate — out of the primary.


Civil Affairs: Friedman


In a recent Daily Texan column, I bemoaned the “race to the right” that had emerged as a general Republican strategy and lamented the fact that ugly purity tests of “true republicanism” had become so common in the state’s primary contests. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing the same tactics on the other side of the aisle in the primary contest for the Agriculture Commissioner Democratic nominee.

That primary is dominated by Richard “Kinky” Friedman, a former musician — known for performing such gems as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” — turned politician. He ran for Governor as an independent in 2006, finishing in fourth place in the contest where Rick Perry was re-elected with a slim 39 percent plurality. Because of Friedman’s past — not to mention a few off-color comments he has made — this has stilled an unshakeable suspicion among many of the Democratic top brass.

“It’s impossible for me to view Friedman as a serious candidate,” said Harold Cook, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist. “In fact, given that he’s run as a Republican, an independent and a Democrat, it’s impossible for me to view him as anything other than a rank opportunist.”


Civil Affairs: Ideology

Political debate has been reduced to a bunch of noise. Unfortunately for all of us, the discourse behind political disagreements is the lifeblood that drives it. Accordingly, when two well-meaning people have a disagreement, it is hard to settle disputes by pointing to a monolithic block of evidence that proves one side and one side alone of the debate. This, I believe, may be traced back to our obsession with ideology, a nearly tribal mentality that tells us we must take a specific side of the argument, just because most of our compatriots do. When one is blinded by their ideology, it perverts our system of facts, which we in turn use to validate our ideologies. Rather than serve the ideology, we should serve the facts.

For example, most every American believes that their fellow countrymen deserve affordable, quality healthcare. Only the most cruel, caustic on the right-fringes of politics would dare actually stand for anything different (albeit, many of these individuals hold much power in our State). Likewise, a strong majority of Americans believe that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced if it is not competently accomplishing its duties. Only the most loyal supporters of President Obama and his administration, those blinded by ideology, would continue to stand by a program that can be proved as to be a failure. When it comes to the issue of healthcare reform, the silent majority of this country steers clear of ideology, only the fringes that dominate primaries and the like would differ in opinion.

The problem with this is that there is a genuine disagreement between the left and the right on whether or not Obamacare reduces costs and increases quality. There is a disagreement on if the program is a failure or not. This is where the aforementioned “noise” and the concerns over polluted facts come into play. AM Radio and Fox News will publish piece after piece of yellow journalism, using shoddy, anecdotal evidence to allegedly prove the program is one hiccup away from falling apart. In turn, the spin doctors at Upworthy or Addicting Info will twist words and figures to allegedly refute all the claims made by the other side, often using straw man fallacies.

So what gives? Perhaps we should just cut through the fat, you might say, and get to place where just the unadulterated facts are presented to the general public. The trouble with this, of course, is that it is never so simple. Take the issue of a 20-week ban on abortion, for example, wherein proponents of such a ban argued that fetuses could feel pain at that point in the pregnancy. The scientific studies we have on this are riddled with complex jargon and often do not make such a clear-cut point as the papers may want to in order to sell. And while on this issue, the scientific community tends to be mostly skeptical of fetal pain claims before the 3rd trimester, the deeper summation of our understanding on the issue is “There’s far more we don’t know than we do know.” But that does not make for a very good headline in the National Review or Mother Jones, now does it?

I regrettably do not have a solution to this problem, but it is an important one to keep in mind. When you come to a solution about a problem, be it Healthcare reform, Abortion rights or even the local disputes being fought over at City Hall (the Uber/Lyft debate comes to mind), ask yourself if it is facts…or ideology that is driving your opinion on the subject. Make sure you are not just on the team for the sake of being on the team. We’ll try to do our part by being part of the noise with less frequency.

Civil Affiars: Poll


As Election Night unfolded, I sat at a watch party glued to my laptop. The first few results rolled in on Tuesday evening, I could not help but be surprised at what I was seeing. Dan Patrick, the ultra-conservative state senator from Houston, was leading incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst 2-to-1 in the primary for that post, flouting both what had been assumed as gospel by the political establishment and reported as fact from a recent Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll.

That same poll showed LaRouche activist (a cabal of conspiracy theorists) Kesha Rogers holding a plurality lead in the Democratic Primary for the U.S. Senate. While she did — somehow — manage her way into a runoff with the establishment candidate, she did so with close to a 20 point deficit to make up, a normally insurmountable task.

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