What the Hell Has Happened to Texas?

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  A detail view of pistols that were turned in during a gun buy back program at the First Presbyteria
DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19: A detail view of pistols that were turned in during a gun buy back program at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas on January 19, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The gun buy back program has collected and destroyed over 400 pistols, rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic assault weapons since its inception. U.S. President Barack Obama recently unveiled a package of gun control proposals that include universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Recently, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott cranked up his unlimited-contribution-campaign machine to go up against Rick Perry's unlimited-contribution-campaign machine for governor in 2014. Perry, who's known for gun play, stumbled badly during the 2012 presidential primary season, and been seen lately as vulnerable in his quest to again be Texas' Governor so he can take another crack at the presidential nomination in 2016. Perry's antics are well known, and Abbott apparently has determined that he has to board the Crazy Train to challenge him for the Republican nomination.


To get things rolling, Abbott has been posting campaign advertisements to his Facebook page, but outdid himself a couple of days ago by posting the above ad pairing a semi-automatic handgun alongside an old dog-eared Bible lamenting the fact that gun play and Bible thumping were not being taught in schools. Being from Texas, I have to say that I've seen just about everything, from gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams joking about rape, to Perry shooting and waving around revolvers at an event in Fort Worth, to Louie Gohmert wishing that the murdered principal at Sandy Hook School had been carrying an assault rifle when attacked, to Steve Stockman bringing NRA board member Ted Nugent to the State of the Union, but this one took my breath away. The historical context of this ad is simply wrong, and the irresponsibility of advocating gun play and teaching of a particular religion in schools should be clear disqualifiers for Abbott as a serious candidate, but not in Texas.

My state has always been a larger than life, much caricatured place, and most Texans take it all in good humor; we look back with fondness at the old days of LBJ and John Connally, loved Big Tex at the State Fair, and watch UT football, no matter where you went to school. Texas' problem, though, is that over the last decade, the state and its leaders have taken a dark turn. Bigotry and racism that had been greatly overcome (or at least stifled) in previous years have raised their ugly heads again. Anti-intellectualism is glorified. Public advocacy of secession and gun violence, gleeful invasion of women's privacy, cruel reductions of health care and education funding, and radical gerrymandering that puts otherwise unelectable candidates in office have not only made Texas a laughing stock to most of the industrialized world, but more importantly, seriously affected (negatively) millions of people's lives. Texas has been pulled so far to the right that reasonable voices are seldom heard. Politicians' antics have become so commonplace that they are just shrugged off rather than being spotlighted. Time in Austin is not spent on education funding or improving the economy, but on forced ultrasounds, twisting up laws to defund vital health services provided by Planned Parenthood, legislating college football games, introducing open carry laws, and editing school books to match religious ideology.

Two things, I believe, have driven Texas to this low level -- gerrymandering and unlimited campaign contributions. It's not unusual for wealthy donors to contribute millions to individual candidates. With the recent introduction of Super Pacs after Citizens United, the problem has only gotten worse. Every Republican tacks as far to the right as intellectually possible attempting to stave off radical, but well financed challengers. That's exactly what happened to David Dewhurst when he was upset by Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz, who brought in millions in outside money to counteract Dewhurst's wealth. Combined, the Senate primary race cost $45 million. To make matters even worse, the GOP maintains its death grip on the Texas state House by gerrymandering state Senate and House districts to keep Democrats out. That's what happened after the 2002 elections that allowed Tom DeLay the opportunity to lead the mid-decade US House redistricting the following year, after which only one Democrat, Gene Green, out of the 10 targeted for defeat, won reelection without changing parties or shifting districts. Add voter ID efforts, long lines in minority precinct polling places, and the takeover of Texas is complete.

It won't last forever, though. Most recognize that the state's demographics are changing. Young Latino politicians like the Castro brothers are emerging and making strong showings. Fifty percent of Texas youth are Latino. And, the GOP brand is damaged with both Latinos and African Americans; last year's presidential primary season didn't help, especially with all the "self deportation" and "47 percent " talk. Understanding the threat that Texas Republicans are facing informs why they've been so desperately trying to consolidate power now, suppress minority voting, and install more radical representation at the local, state, and national levels.

However, it's only a matter of time before all that won't work.