How Texas Broke America
(Just a quick note of thanks to everyone for their support of this newsletter. The readers, subscribers, and sharing have all increased every week. I am grateful to be a part of the discourse during this important time). - JM
“A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country”. – Texas Guinan, Waco born Broadway and Hollywood starlet, famous speakeasy owner of the 1920’s.
How Texas Broke America
The vision was big, but the plan was not complicated. In Texas, conservatives believed that various courts, including the state’s Supreme Court, too often issued rulings that were more favorable to litigants than businesses. Although there was hardly any data to support their claims, the argument was that liability lawsuits tended to be frivolous, and plaintiffs sued seeking large cash settlements. Until that problem was resolved, they insisted the economic climate would suffer from constrained growth, doctors and health care providers, manufacturers, and energy companies, would all be looking for a better place to call home, a safer location to conduct commerce.
The rhetoric was rich with the aroma of horseshit, but it worked because of an amoral political consultant named Karl Rove. He convinced the business community in Texas to spend money to elect conservative judges, which would help their profits and growth by reducing judgments and dismissing cases. When he proved the viability of his assertions, he then came back to them asking for support of his selected candidates for statewide offices, conservatives with the same values espoused by a neophyte right wing court. Rove’s various campaigns included language like “activist judges” and “lawsuit happy plaintiffs’ attorneys,” and his descriptors filtered into the Texas political landscape.
The driving force for funding the changes Rove and the right were seeking was an organization called Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Their leadership team liked to talk about their organization as being “grassroots” but they were nothing more than wealthy corporate owners and executives, most of them in the construction industry. Dick Weekley, co-founder, chairman, and CEO of TLR, also co-founded David Weekley Homes with his brother, and turned it into one of the largest home construction enterprises in the booming Texas market. Big homebuilders don’t like unhappy homeowners being able to go to the courthouse and get justice for shoddy workmanship, if and when it happens.
TLR’s site says it fights against “new causes of action and new theories of liability.” Isn’t it interesting, then, that TLR, whose board is comprised of nine white males, has spent $2.3 million dollars since 2018 supporting candidates and organizations promoting the Texas abortion ban, according to research by Judd Legum, who writes a popular politics newsletter. The new Texas abortion law seems to be exactly what TLR has wanted to stop because it is architected around the notion of suing anyone you suspect helped facilitate an abortion. That certainly sounds like a “new cause of action and theory of liability." Guess it’s okay to sue other people over abortions, just not the businesses TLR supports.
Nonetheless, TLR’s money enabled the state’s high court to very quickly get shed of Democrats and become completely Republican. Voters elected any justice or judge with an R after their name because they had been convinced those individuals were protective of the business climate in Texas, and believed in fairness, not lawsuits. Wealthy individuals, corporate donors, dark money political action committees, and the entire business community began throwing money at Republicans, which funded Rove’s dirty tactics like whisper campaigns about sexual orientation and unfounded lies to attack Democratic candidates. The result has been no Democrat holding the governor’s office since the late Ann Richards finished her term as governor when defeated by Rove client George W. Bush in 1994.
Rove took his attack dog tactics and template to the Alabama Supreme Court race in the nineties also and helped transition the panel from all Democrat to completely conservative Republican. His goal, of course, was never about finding qualified legal minds to deliver justice; Rove only wanted control to create a climate that delivered political power almost unilaterally to Republicans and the desires of their monied interests. He did whatever he thought necessary, and if that meant he destroyed the reputation of an honored justice by smearing him as a pedophile, well, it’s just politics. Also in Alabama in the 90s, Rove was the first political consultant to challenge the integrity of voting results. When his candidate was losing a close race, he sent out his campaign hounds to demand recounts and question every ballot, which is the current tactic dragging down our democracy and ruining trust in ballot box results.
Whenever I, or anyone has confronted Rove over what his doctrine has done to American elections, he disavows his own accomplishments as mad political scientist. His most transformational achievement, though, has been to grease campaign wheels with money, vast amounts of almost unregulated cash that make it possible to turn lying into a tactic, not a mistake that will cost a candidate an election, and if his candidate loses, confront the vote counting that verified the loss.
A democracy suffused with money is simply a plutocracy.
My intention is not to give a singular political consultant more credit than he deserves but the electoral mechanisms he deployed in Texas have been used across the country in state and national politics, and conservative control at the state level has dramatically expanded. When corporations became “people” through the Citizens United ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, the poison needle may have been placed into the arm of American democracy. Yes, individuals still have the right to vote and make their own decisions, but a river of money bought misleading advertising for conservatives, built their campaign and electoral infrastructures, and purchased influence over state and local officeholders who passed regulations and laws that made it harder for demographic groups to vote that are not traditionally Republican.
If you don’t believe this to be the case, consider what is happening on the issue of climate crisis. Global warming caused by fossil fuels is settled science and the impacts are probably right outside your door. Every summer the west catches fire, hurricanes increase in frequency and power, floods and droughts have accelerated cycles, and particulates in the air cloud our horizons. Unfortunately, though, under the previous president, and historically, energy companies have been able to push back changes that might begin to reduce climate dangers, and their influence has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United. In the past decade, seven of the top twenty political campaign donors were corporations that gave an estimated $638 million dollars to conservative candidates, a figure which does not even include dark money from PACS and other entities no longer required to control their funding. In one year alone, the energy and natural resources sector sent three lobbyists to Washington for every member of congress.
Do you really think your congressional representative hears you when there are three people in his lobby who can singlehandedly fund his reelection and take him out to the best restaurants in Washington? The unbridled cash to elect conservatives who will appoint radical right judges meant that even when a race turned into a loss, there were certain to be justices on the benches who would sustain the ideology, and if you elect a president and get to appoint Supreme Court judges, the conservative viewpoint can be viable for generations. A representative institutional democracy is no longer a viable concept. Money makes it moot. The parties with the resources to control legislatures and governors’ races and, ultimately, congress, and especially who sits in the White House, are the organizations that make the rules.
Texas has long been the petri dish for experimenting with democratic processes. Lyndon Johnson stole a U.S. Senate primary in 1948 by convincing a South Texas power broker to stuff a ballot box with 202 fake signatures on ballots, most with the same penmanship, and a few dozen signatures from dead people who came back to town to vote for the future president. Just like in 1948, what you are witnessing in Texas today is not the will of the people; it is the will of the people with money, which is precisely the circumstance nationally. Their goal is to see how far they can get with re-engineering democracy to suit their economic and social ambitions. Ours is not the first state to pass open carry gun rules or to attempt to eliminate women’s reproductive rights but it is the biggest, most diverse testbed to try to envision what a post-democracy America might look like. If they can pull it off here, where the White population is in the minority, control is possible in every other state and on a national level.
And their instruments are as nuanced as they are blunt force.
The heartbeat bill to prevent abortions after six weeks is both cravenly brutal towards women but subtle in its effectuality. The right-wing extremists in control of the Texas legislature enacted a law that doesn’t really ban abortion but has the potential to penalize anyone who assists a woman seeking to end a problem pregnancy. You are empowered to snitch on your neighbor’s college-aged daughter, who might not want a child just yet, and was driven to a clinic by her best friend. You’ve suspected there was a problem, follow them, and see her being dropped off at a clinic. You can now file a lawsuit against the friend, who did nothing more than drive the college girl to a doctor, and that enables you to maybe ruin the friend’s life, too. The big bonus, if you win, is $10,000 paid by the defendant. As one observer suggested, in a deep nod to the cynicism of the bill’s authors, it is revenue neutral for the state of Texas. Plus, you don’t have to worry if the poor girl was a victim of rape or incest, you can still sue them and their facilitators!
This takes enforcement out of the hands of the state and gives it to the snooping neighbors, which was the basis of the Texas legal argument to the highest court in the land. The state, it insisted, cannot be enjoined from enforcing a law that it does not enforce because its citizens are administering justice under the novel approach. An Uber driver, for instance, a store clerk who overhead a conversation, a passenger sitting next to a woman on an airplane, and anyone who wants to stop a female from controlling her own body during pregnancy. What about the doctor or clinician who performs the procedure? Suddenly, they have financial and reputation exposure for providing medical care. What happens to their insurance rates and availability of coverage? Isn’t everyone involved in the process suddenly chastened and not wanting to risk their lives and livelihoods? No one will want to provide the service to women. They also will need legal counsel to fight any claims, and that will certainly cost more than the $10,000.
The authoritarians, (nee totalitarians), of the Republican Party of Texas have implemented what a friend of mine has suggested amounts to a vigilante form of justice. The heartbeat law is not the only example. We are creating thought police around the idea of Critical Race Theory, which is nothing more than a euphemism for teaching the facts about how this country was founded, committed genocide, and grew wealthy by enslaving Africans. If a teacher begins to suggest there was something morally wrong with enslaving people and discriminating against them during our history, or a principal or administrator demands the curriculum offer the truth, they can be fired for cause; especially if a parent complains.
The changes to voting laws that were sent to the governor empower poll watchers to intimidate voters, stand close to the booth, and do almost anything short of physically restraining them before they cast their ballots. Precinct chairs have very little authority to remonstrate or stop these bad actors. In fact, they can probably be wearing their open carry weapons on their hip. Look for this exciting development on Election Day.
If you want, no need to wear a mask, either. Be a vigilante and spread the virus to people you don’t like or in a public setting to make your political points and put others at risk. Tell them you are washed in the blood of Jesus and you don’t believe in vaccines, one of the greatest medical developments in human history. The governor of Texas is making certain no city, county, or state organization can force you to wear a mask.
Get yourself a gun, too, and don’t worry about taking safety courses, or hiding it on your person. Strap it on, go walk in the world and let people know that you can kill or wound them if you are around someone who makes you angry. Maybe a few drinks make you uninhibited, but let’s not fret about mixing alcohol and guns. In Texas, it is your God-given right to pack heat, and get drunk.
The Texas government’s authoritarianism may quickly go viral, too. In fact, South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem has already said that she wants her state’s abortion laws tightened after the U.S. Supreme Court failed to hold a hearing on the Texas law. The state-by-state effort to take away women’s rights is demanding too much time and effort, which is part of the reason Texas designed a law that cleverly challenged Roe v. Wade. Because the monied forces in our culture had managed to seat two more conservative justices, a ruling, or a refusal to rule, would be a signal from the court that other states could pass similar laws, which is exactly what will happen in Kristi Noem’s South Dakota, unless Democrats act.
The assault on women’s reproductive rights has never been about protecting life; it has always been nothing more than a political wedge issue to control women. The heartbeat bill amounts to a violent statutory rape of women, destroying their rights and possibly their lives with complexities and difficulties at one of the most emotional times ever experienced by a female. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelmingly white male GOP in Texas has designed a law that is also extremely prejudicial against minority women since most abortions are requested by Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the state of Texas.
Republicans exhaust a lot of their energy talking about the unborn, but it’s the born in Texas who need help. They love a six-week-old aggregation of cells that only emits a slight electrical pulse that is not a heartbeat, yet they have no time to assist a living and breathing child of poverty or with disabilities, or their mothers. Black women in Texas, in fact, have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world at 27.8 deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies, and doctors estimate that as much as 50 and even as high as 80 percent of those childbirth deaths can be prevented.
The numbers might be better if the conservatives expanded Medicaid, but the past two Republican governors have refused to increase eligibility for low-income Texans. The state has the highest rate of uninsured and the largest number of people without health insurance and 20 percent of all uninsured children in the U.S. live in Texas. Estimates, meanwhile, are that Texas taxpayers will have sent more than $20 billion dollars in tax money to other states to fund their Medicaid for the poor, for no explicable reason other than Republicans do not want poor people in this state to get health care.
If only all those uninsured were unborn.
Instead, 60 percent of them are living in low-income families earning $35,000 or less for a family of four, and one fourth of all adult Texans under the age of 65 are without insurance. Children, however, are the most neglected in this state, but they are a gold mine for health care companies. Children with disabilities are constantly victimized by a Republican crafted Medicaid measure that costs taxpayers billions annually but makes huge profits for providers because they are allowed to deny services. Denial is also an actual state practice used to hold down costs when children with disabilities are trying to get special education at schools. The Houston Chronicle’s investigation showed Texas public schools were rationing educational services and hiring expensive lawyers to manage complaining parents who demand the federally protected civil rights of their children.
If only they were unborn, they’d be protected.
Texas, like the conservative policies often implemented by the federal government and Congress, and those employed by Republican-led states, has become very adept at cutting costs to services that help the poor while reducing taxes to corporations. Budget writers simply cut spending on programs that help people without political voices. In Texas, foster children spend years sleeping in state offices, churches, and sometimes cheap hotels, because there is no will to fund an effort to truly help them into a normal life.
The con goes on, though. Texas talks about life but cheapens it with corporate largesse for politicians. There is nothing pro-life in a state that allows energy companies to make billions on fuel when the grid is collapsing, and an estimated 800 Texans die from cold and exposure while the governor gets million-dollar checks from the gas suppliers that made multi-billion dollar profits, and nothing gets done to repair the electrical infrastructure and ready it for the next storm.
We also continue to outstrip other states in Covid malfeasance, a governor who talks about freedom and then takes away the rights of schools and counties and cities and businesses to require masks to protect people in public places. We are close to 56,000 dead (because freedom!) and as a percentage of our population compared to other states our mortality rate is number one! (See also: Everything is bigger in Texas). Sadly, we are only number 2 in total deaths, but we are closing in on the leader in this dark race. Our 234 average daily deaths are outdone only by Florida and Governor Ron Death Santis, which loses 325 souls to the virus every 24 hours.
So, look at Texas, America; we are the ghost of the US’ future. Our Republican leaders push phony morality issues as a misdirection while they get us to argue about our freedom to not wear masks, ingest horse dewormer, and catch a deadly virus. The monied moguls load up their ciphers like Greg Abbott with $55 million in campaign cash, hoping that he can roll into Trump’s spot if that hollow man falls away. Texans are showing America how to reduce voting by minorities, jam money into the message machine to drown out any trace of the truth, and keep paring support from the skeletal programs that help people get up out of the ditch.
You can learn much from looking at Texas, but it’s not the right stuff. Don’t imitate us anymore. Our country is following this state down a bad road to a dark place, and it is dangerous to democracy. I have lived in Texas all my adult life and it has seemed like almost every time the state legislature convenes, one of our rights slips away or is challenged by some lying charlatan who claims he knows Jesus and he’s helping us get closer to the light.
Turn around, America. You are approaching a cliff.
Truth for Texas
My super PAC, Truth for Texas, is still raising money to launch on on-line digital campaign to confront the fools destroying women’s reproductive rights while also attacking voting rights. I have never been an activist or raised money for political causes, but this time feels very critical for our state and nation. If you are inclined to help out, donations can be made at Truth for Texas.