Let us now praise famous mobs. There's been an excessive amount of tut-tutting over the "unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics" (Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst) for "hijacking ... the democratic process" (Gov.-for-Life Rick Perry) with "Obama-style mob tactics" (The Dew again). True, the gallery drowned out the last 13 minutes of the special session, but what the protestors' critics conveniently ignore that the mob only became unruly when they witnessed Senate Republicans changing the rules in the middle of the game.
One must have an excessively generous acquiescence to the spirit of rules to accept that two of Sen. Davis' strikes were for talking about abortion while filibustering an abortion bill. As Sen. Judith Zaffirini later pointed out, the senate rules say the strikes should be for germaneness, and that dinging Sen. Davis for letting Sen. Rodney Ellis adjust her back brace was punishing the wrong person. But when you think about it, making women pay the price for a man's mistake made perverse sense in this debate.
Would that those who lost control of the senate had applied the same faith in rules as steadfastly to themselves after busting the filibuster. What an increasingly large national audience witnessed was Texas Republicans using rules not to ensure fair place but to keep the powerless in their place.
At 10:49, Dewhurst called strike three, inciting a bit of unruliness in the gallery. Sen. Kirk Watson raised his hand, said please, and reminded Dewhurst that he promised that the senate would get to vote on the three strikes, at which point Dewhurst essentially claimed he never said "no take backs." This is when everyone knew the fix was in.
Watson, who's been described as the intersection of John Adams, Davy Crockett, and a velociraptor, said "Yuh-huh," which forced Dewhurst to hand the gavel over to Sen. Robert Duncan to preside over the landmark case, Did So v. Did Not. And while Duncan huddled with a parliamentarian who must have been on leave from the law firm of Dewey, Cheatum and Howe, he reminded the gallery that he would strictly enforce the rules of decorum (from the Latin "sit down and shut up") even though the crowd had again become ruly after briefly letting Dewhurst have it.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte chewed through four minutes getting caught up after returning from her father's funeral before Sen. Duncan recognized another senator even though Sen. Watson still had the floor. For those of you not up on the arcane rules of the Texas Senate, holding the floor is like holding the conch in Lord of the Flies. This prompted both Sens. Royce West and Rodney Ellis to, in the nicest way possible, call Duncan a liar.
It was easy to get lost in the parliamentary back and forth, but Sen. Duncan looked desperate, if not comical, to longtime legislative observers when he made a ruling based on Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure and not the Texas Senate's own rulebook. At this point, the online audience for the debate was spiking. Everyone could tell they were witnessing a hose job par excellence. But still the crowd in the gallery was ruly.
That would soon change. Sen. Van de Putte, at a volume clearly audible in the still-ruly gallery, moved to adjourn. Dewhurst pretended he couldn't hear her and called on someone else. Not recognizing a senator making a legitimate motion isn't just rude. Under Rule 4.08, the sergeant at arms can remove the presiding officer from the chair and place him under arrest for doing this. This was no minor infraction, which is why Van de Putte raised her voice and dropped the mic.
"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?" she asked, and only then did the gallery become unruly. With the brief exception of their reaction to Dewhurst calling strike three on Davis' filibuster, the onlookers had sat quietly for 12 hours and 47 minutes, stoically witnessing their leaders acting like Banana Republicans. It was only when one of the participants openly acknowledged the proceedings as a farce did deafening cries of "shame!" rain down on the guilty.
Not all Republicans are acting like the victims of an inexplicably unruly mob. Republican Rep. David Simpson asked, "How can they be expected to follow the rules if we don't follow the rules?"
I'd ask a different question: If Americans witness their government abusing power, wouldn't you want them to speak up? Molly Ivins used to jokingly call the gallery the "owners' box" because that's where the special interest lobbyists sat to survey the proceedings. As last Tuesday stretched noisily into Wednesday, the howling protestors were acting like they owned the place. In fact, they did.
This post originally appeared on Jason Stanford's blog, Behind Frenemy Lines.