Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Texas Politics: Best Theater In Town

After listening to almost 10 hours of debate centered on the highly dubious merits of the Texas legislature's superstupid so-called 'abortion' bill (HB2), all exchanges, pro and con, boiled down to a vote passing the bill. Opponents, all Democrats, just didn't have the numbers, and moderate Republicans, cowed by the Tea Party right-wing crazies among them, chickened out.

But that was just the beginning. What happened in the 30 minutes after the votes were tallied and was more uplifting than most of the performances on the House floor. Mind you, here were several magical moments throughout the day.  

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the legislature's no-nonsense grand dame, delivered a graphic description of what will happen to Texas women as a result of this draconian bill (that will severely limit access to a range of medical services in addition to abortion). With a coat hanger in one hand and a scary-long knitting needle in the other, she made clear what happens in back-alley abortions -- and insisted that these would be the likely implements used for terminating an unwanted pregnancy due to rape or incest (the bill makes no provision for allowing termination of a pregnancy after 20 weeks). She asked that an amendment to the bill be considered. It would make an exception for rape and/or incest.

It was voted down.

In a powerful proposal delivered in old-school oratorical style,  Rep. Sylvester Turner  promised in to vote for the bill if a provision were added to fund post-natal and medical care for mother and child.

 His amendment was voted down.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes gently and somberly proposed an amendment that would fund education for children born of unwanted pregnancies. Her amendment was also voted down-- but not before some neophyte whippersnapper had the temerity to challenge Dukes' motivation for advancing the amendment in the first place. What followed was a scene straight from a TV drama series. Dukes fixed a steely gaze on the offending legislator and issued a smackdown worthy  of  "The West Wing." Her voice dropped half of an octave. When she finished dusting the floor with a scathing indictment of his character for his seeming to challenge hers, she stepped back from the microphone and over to his desk where she completed her reprimand. A brace of empty suits surrounded the two,  but none -- I suspect wisely -- interfered.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Joe Strauss fluctuated between looking frustrated, dismayed and bewildered, bless his heart.

Interspersed with this day-long drama were occasional rejoinders from the bill's ostensible sponsor: Rep. Jodie Laubenberg. She called to mind one of Molly Ivins' more notorious quotes. In characterizing a Texas politico, Molly once wrote, "If  his IQ slipped any lower, you'd have to water him twice a day."  Enter Rep. Laubenberg, bless her heart too. I can't begin to imagine how or why she became the bill's front-and-center spokestwit. Barely able to articulate a compound sentence, she couldn't defend "her" bill with anything vaguely resembling informed authority. (This is the person who famously believed a rape kit was the appropriate methodology for eliminating the probability of pregnancy; she had no idea its sole purpose was to acquire a perp's  DNA.)

Bet whoever put her up to it won't make that mistake again.

OK. So now you have a snapshot of the activity before the miserable vote took place.  What happened after the session ended is the wonderful part of the day and what made the end result tolerable. Hundreds of men and women of all shapes, ages, sizes, ethnicities and manner of dress descended on the second floor outside the House chamber, shouts of "Shame On You!" erupted among Texans who lined stairwells and crowded the gallery just outside the House doors. Stone-faced state troopers promptly cordoned off access.  The  mass of people forced some of the bill's supporters to skitter down side stairs like so many fleeing rodents.

And then...and then...AND THEN: some of the true heroes of the day began to emerge. Angry jeers became cheers: "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU" we yelled. Somewhere a drum and a tambourine appeared, its players keeping rhythm. There they were: representatives Sephronia Thompson, Rodney Allen, Jessica Ferrar, Mary Gonzales, Elliott Naishtat, Helen Giddings,  Garnet Coleman, Jose Menendez. Despite the best efforts of   remarkably calm fire marshals, supporters crowded them, reaching past a line of troopers who tried to cordon off a pathway from the house floor to the rotunda. The sea of phone cameras at the end of upstretched arms was almost sculptural. Others, including Dukes, were sequestered in a press conference.

And all of a sudden, it was over. The second session of the 83rd convocation of the Texas State Legislature had run its course. The crowd dispersed. The troopers scattered. The fire marshall accepted a Gerber daisy.

Now we wait to see if this enthusiasm can translate into getting out the vote.

In all, it was a bad news/good news day.

HB2, which will be challenged six ways from Sunday, was, for the time being, en route to becoming law. As for the  good news, the monomaniacal governor who insisted that the million-dollar special session be convened for the sole purpose of passing this chickenshit bill, announced that he will not run for governor again.

My fervent hope is that he takes his limited abilities onto the presidential campaign trail in

2016, since Michele Bachmann isn't likely to run. Every campaign needs a court jester along the way.

Tickets to this theater production,  like the one just ended, are free.