In a letter sent to the State Board of Education, Jimmy Gollihar of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology describes the lengths to which creationists are going to undermine science and advance Creationism in Texas classrooms, as well as the help they are receiving from board chair Barbara Cargill.
While the panels reviewing science textbooks are supposed to be independent of the school board, Cargill worked closely with creationism advocates on the panels, leading Gollihar to note that Cargill aided “those who might reasonably be regarded as creationists.”
Gollihar’s letter details how the creationists who are serving on the panel not only lack any credentials but seem not to understand basic science, such as the one panelist, a dietician, who demanded that biology textbooks incorporate “creation science based on biblical principles.”
“With such a gross misunderstanding of science, it is hard to fathom that any other comments the reviewer made would have been helpful or even accurate, and it further underscores the unfortunate skewing of the panels away from real, practicing scientists,” Gollihar writes.
As Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network points out, Gollihar’s name was even added to the anti-evolution panelist’s comment.
“The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature,” Gollihar continues. “[E]ven beyond the obviously ideologically-derived comments on the materials many of the comments found littered throughout those reviews make no sense whatsoever from a scientific viewpoint.”
He notes that actual biologists are being sidelined in the process as he was “among a small minority of panelists that possessed any post-secondary education in the biological sciences.”
By stacking the panels with advocates of Creationism, the bodies did “not in any way reflect the distribution of viewpoints within the scientific community.”
First, it would seem that the selection process for reviewers is lacking, at best — politically motivated at worst. Coming into the live review session in Austin, I fully expected that as a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin I would be the least-qualified member on the panel. My fears of inadequacy would soon subside; it seems that I was in fact one of only two practicing scientists present; indeed, I was among a small minority of panelists that possessed any post-secondary education in the biological sciences. Given the high interest amongst the scientific community in improving science education in Texas, I doubt that the make-up of the panel reflected the application pool in any way.
In fact, I know that several of my colleagues who hold PhD or equivalent degrees in their respective fields were passed over in the selection process. Instead, we had several well-known creationists and even a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, an Intelligent Design think tank. Beyond the established creationists, apologists for “creation science” were scattered throughout each of the review teams. This does not in any way reflect the distribution of viewpoints within the scientific community. It is impossible to conclude that the teams reviewing textbooks were anything other than grossly skewed and obviously biased.
The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a reviewer from another table, who is also a well-known creationist without any training in biology, was quite proud that he was the one reviewing the sections on evolution for his table … with no scientific counterpoint to be had. As a result, even beyond the obviously ideologically-derived comments on the materials many of the comments found littered throughout those reviews make no sense whatsoever from a scientific viewpoint and are absolutely not germane to the content prescribed in the TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills].
Secondly, I and other members of my group grew increasingly concerned with both the actions and presence of Chairwoman Barbara Cargill during the review of course materials for high school biology. We appreciated her kind words about our service to the state, but we were taken aback by the sheer amount of time spent with other panel members, especially those who might reasonably be regarded as creationists. From our vantage, Ms. Cargill was clearly trying to steer the independent review process by providing specific guidance and direction to the two other teams. She appeared to be pointing to specific locations within certain texts and encouraging the members of the panel to recommend changes to the publishers. It is our understanding that the review process should be absent of any undue influence from SBOE members.
Finally, I have recently been made aware that a reviewer from another team made what appears to be a grossly misrepresentative comment to the publisher. For example, in the review of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt textbook, an incredible resource, a panel member comments:
I understand the National Academy of Science's strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator and parent, I feel very strongly that "creation science" based on Biblical principles should be incorporated to every Biology book that is up for adoption. It is very important for students to use critical thinking skills and give them the opportunity to weigh the evidence between evolution and "creation science."
This is disturbing for a number of reasons. The author of this comment has obviously not mastered the material contained within the TEKS, especially 2C. With such a gross misunderstanding of science, it is hard to fathom that any other comments the reviewer made would have been helpful or even accurate, and it further underscores the unfortunate skewing of the panels away from real, practicing scientists. Moreover, while I entered into this process hoping to improve it, I now find that my name appears on the final document containing this comment! At no time did I ever sign anything resembling such nonsense. In fact, the author of that comment and I never worked on anything together. I do not know how this inaccurate statement and my name have been paired, but because I am a professional in good standing I strongly ask you to please remove my name from anything that does not have my direct signature when providing materials to the public. To do otherwise is to potentially sully my reputation. In sum, the review process is either broken or corrupt.
In hopes of the former, let’s learn from this and ensure that the next generation of students from our state is equipped with a solid foundation in the biological sciences and can compete globally. Future panel members should be experts in the irrespective fields, preferably practicing scientists up to date on the modern information that students need. If necessary, it might be useful to partition the TEKS to academics and professionals who deal with these topics in their work and research. We should absolutely not see network, mechanical or chemical engineers, dieticians or others making decisions or pressuring publishers to change books on biology. Let biologists do biology. We’re actually pretty good at it.
Creationists advising the Texas Education Agency, the state’s board of education, are no longer even trying to hide the fact that they want to insert pseudo-scientific material grounded in religious beliefs into public school science textbooks. Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News reports that evolution detractors appointed to the review boards are urging the textbook publishers to ignore the Supreme Court (along with science) and push Creationism, or be rejected.
One of the panelists reviewing the biology textbooks, a nutritionist, said that “creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.”
Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.
One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes.
“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.”
“Now the veil is dropped,” Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network writes. “Some of the reviewers are clearly oblivious to the fact that teaching religious arguments in a science classroom is blatantly unconstitutional.”
The National Center for Science Education and Texas Freedom Network found that the Creationists on the textbook review boards have also:
• asserted that "no transitional fossils have been discovered"
• insisted that there is no evidence for a human influence on the carbon cycle
• claimed that there is no evidence about the effect of climate change on species diversity
• promoted a book touting "intelligent design" creationism as a reliable source of scientific information
• denied that recombination and genetic drift are evolutionary mechanisms
• mischaracterized experiments on the peppered moth as "discredited" and as "fabrication[s]"
Due to the size of the Texas market, textbooks tailored to the state’s standards could be used across the country, making the ramifications of the Creationist influence even greater.
We’re already well aware that the voter ID laws that have been passed in many states are designed not to prevent fraud but to deter certain groups of people from voting, as several Republicans have admitted in the past. But even without those accidental moments of honesty, it would be clear that something other than an epidemic of voter fraud was motivating the passage of these laws, because there is nothing close to an epidemic of voter fraud.
Today, we have some new evidence of that. Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News reviewed the 66 voter fraud cases prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott since 2004 and found that just four cases would have been prevented by the state’s voter ID law. The law was passed in 2011 and blocked by a unanimous three-judge panel of federal judges until this spring, when the Supreme Court gutted the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act. Just two hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, Abbott declared the voter ID law to be once again…which in turn led to another Justice Department lawsuit.
The numbers that are supposedly driving Texas’ voter ID push are so ridiculous that they’re actually quite difficult to illustrate. Consider this: Texas had 13,594,264 registered voters in 2012. Four cases of fraud out of 13,594,264 voters works out to… actually, it’s a percentage so small my calculator won’t even display it. Of course, voter fraud is a serious felony that Texas is right to prosecute on the rare occasions that it happens. But Greg Abbott considers the crime widespread enough to pass a law that will disenfranchise thousands of voters who can’t access the ID they need, or will be confused or otherwise deterred by the restrictions and won’t go to the polls.
Perhaps the most telling part of Slater’s piece is this:
“Abbott acknowledged that voter ID wouldn’t have made a difference in most of the cases he has prosecuted.”
Instead, Abbott’s response to Slater’s data on the ineffectiveness of voter ID was as logical as can be expected: Obamacare!
So Abbott’s solution to prevent potential voter fraud is one that he admits won’t address most of the (very few) actual instances of fraud, yet he’s pushing ahead with instituting a law that will disenfranchise thousands? To me, it looks like he doesn’t even believe his own spin anymore. The only “problem” this law addresses is that some people want to vote for Democrats—and Greg Abbott knows it.
The Religious Right has gone into overdrive to fight a San Antonio ordinance that added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the city’s non-discrimination policy [PDF], which already included bans on discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex…veteran status, age or disability.” But despite their hyperventilating, the measure passed anyway.
The ordinance’s opponents were certainly not helped by their strategy of using far-fetched, over-the-top arguments to mischaracterize the ordinance…because that it was just too easy to point out where went wrong.
Take, for instance, pastor Charles Flowers, a vocal opponent of the ordinance, who appeared on The Janet Mefferd Show on September 6 to charge that councilmembers who backed the measure “don’t deserve to serve any longer” because they “assaulted” the rights of Christians.
His main complaint about the ordinance was that homosexuality is a “sexual lifestyle choice” and not an immutable characteristic…like a person’s religious beliefs.
“There is a strong response coming from this community to rid our city council of people whose judgment -- this is the issue, they could not judge the difference between the sacred suffering of someone involved in the Civil Rights Movement to gain basic human rights based on immutabilities like race, sex, where you were born and your creeds, that don’t change,” Flowers charged. “They couldn’t tell the difference between that and some group that has a sexual propensity or making as sexual lifestyle choice and now seeking protection in order to persecute and punish anybody whose ideology is different from their own.”
That’s right; the arguments from ordinance’s opponents have come down to the claim that a person’s religious beliefs are unchangeable.
Flowers later contended that “speaking out against the homosexual or lesbian agenda could garner you a fine of $500 per day.”
“That’s $15,000 a month that you could be fined in the seventh largest city in America for expressing a difference between the ideology proposed by a city, where homosexuality and lesbianism is concerned, and your personal belief and personal faith.”
“This is like a police state,” Flowers said, adding that employers who don’t believe in gay rights won’t be able to win city contracts.
His claim that people will be fined for speaking out on homosexuality was so blatantly false that Mefferd had to ask him if pastors could be fined. Flowers alleged that the ordinance would only affect businessmen who seek to fire their openly gay staff members or refuse to serve transgender customers.
Now there is a huge difference between a government fining a person for speaking out against homosexuality or for harboring anti-gay views and prohibiting businesses from discriminating against LGBT employees and customers in public accommodation.
Does he really not see the difference or is he just hoping that listeners will fall for the blatant falsehood?
Furthermore, “religious organizations” are clearly explicitly exempted from the ordinance’s provision on public accommodation, employment and housing, so the Christian businesses Flowers mentioned wouldn’t be impacted.
Texas senator and likely 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz has made a notable friend in Iowa: Rep. Steve King. The Des Moines Register reports that Cruz has accepted King’s invitation to go pheasant hunting on the opening day of the hunting season next month, and was “honored to have received the invite.”
“Yes, we are confirmed for a hunt with King,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in an email Friday to the Des Moines Register. “The senator has enjoyed getting to know him and work with him on important issues before Congress. He’s honored to have received the invite.”
Prior to the 2012 Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, King hosted former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum twice for bird hunting at Iowa game preserves and Texas Gov. Rick Perry on one occasion. The Iowa congressman said in an interview on Thursday he hopes to shape the debate for the 2016 GOP presidential contest by serving as a “guardrail of constitutional conservatism.”
Cruz’s proud association with King is another sign that the Texan has no plans to moderate his positions in advance of a presidential run. King earned rebukes from his party leadership last month when he insisted that most young undocumented immigrants are drug runners with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” He has also compared immigrants to dogs.
Cruz has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration proposal.
Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas has a clever new plan to avert government shutdown. Stockman suggests that the House GOP, rather than threatening to shut down the government if Obamacare remains funded, should instead offer to keep the government open except for funding Obamacare.
If the distinction isn’t clear to you, Stockman tried to clear things up in an appearance yesterday on Newsmax, where he explained, “One of the things that we’re doing wrong is that we’re accepting the argument that when we defund Obamacare, that we’re closing the government down. We’re not! In fact, we’re saving the nation’s future by not funding it.”
Stockman went on to explain that the shift in messaging is necessary because, while Republicans have math on their side, “Democrats will bring out somebody in a wheelchair, and we lose the argument on visuals.”
On Monday night's broadcast of "The Glenn Beck Program," Beck and John Hagee dedicated a segment to railing against a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in San Antonio, Texas that the Religious Right is convinced would ban Christians from running for office or in any way working for the government.
It is not true, of course, but Beck returned to the topic again last night when he asserted that the filibuster Texas state Senator Wendy Davis carried out against the radical anti-abortion legislation earlier this summer was nothing more than a stunt designed to raise her profile in order to allow her to run for higher office, just as San Antonio's anti-discrimination proposal is an effort by the city's mayor to become Vice President of the United States.
"In this case," Beck said, "the mayor of San Antonio is a Hispanic and he's trying to show Hillary Clinton and all the other Democrats that he is the perfect running mate in 2016."
Because that makes sense, since presidential candidates frequently tap mayors to serve as their running mates:
Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott claims the Obama administration’s lawsuit against a redistricting plan, which a federal court unanimously ruled was designed to deliberately discriminate against Latino voters, is proof that the administration is actually discriminating against Latino Republicans.
With new legal battles heating up between the Justice Department and Texas over redistricting and voter ID laws, Abbott has taken to the Washington Times to argue that the Obama administration seeks to violate “the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives” who are Republicans. “The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters,” Abbott writes.
While around 1.4 million Texans lack voter ID, Abbott claims that “crying ‘voter suppression’ is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws,” adding that “the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points.”
In redistricting, the Obama administration has aligned itself with Democratic state representatives and Democratic members of Congress who already are suing Texas. It is no surprise then that the legal position of President Obama’s attorneys seeks to improve Democratic candidates’ prospects. Of course, Mr. Obama’s attorneys conceal this partisan agenda with lofty rhetoric about minority voting rights. But it is no coincidence that every change to district lines supported by the administration benefits Democrats. Behind the empty allegations of racial discrimination lies one goal — helping Democrats in 2014.
The president’s partisan use of the Voting Rights Act actually hurts many minority voters in Texas. With the administration’s support, redistricting litigation already has unseated Texas state Reps. Jose Aliseda, Raul Torres, Aaron Pena and John Garza, as well as U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco. These representatives — all Republicans — won in 2010 in predominantly Hispanic districts. In 2011, however, the Obama administration and other partisan interest groups succeeded in getting a court to draw district lines so that only a Democrat could win these seats. As a direct result, all of these Republican Hispanic representatives lost their seats in 2012 except for Mr. Aliseda, who chose not to run for re-election. His district had been dismantled altogether at Democrats request.
The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters. Democrats could never “turn Texas blue” if that trend continued, so they got the courts to draw district lines that guarantee Democratic victory in predominantly Hispanic areas. What about the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives such as Mr. Aliseda, you might ask? They apparently don’t matter to this administration.
Similarly, polling consistently shows that Hispanic Texans strongly support voter-ID requirements, another target of the administration’s litigious political strategy. Electoral fraud harms voters of all races, and voter ID is a simple, nondiscriminatory way to help stop it. Getting an ID is free of charge for any Texan who needs one. Voter-ID laws already have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Crying “voter suppression” is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws. The administration’s absurd claim that this common-sense fraud prevention device is actually a racist plot to prevent minorities from voting would be comical if it weren’t so depressing to see an American president stoop to that level.
After the Shelby County decision, the Voting Rights Act still works. It just no longer imposes an onerous and costly preclearance requirement that disrupts the state-federal balance of power enshrined in the Constitution. Instead of allowing the Voting Rights Act to work in a way the Constitution allows, the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points. The president is using the legal system as a sword to wage partisan battles rather than a shield to protect voting rights. This overreaching action undermines the Voting Rights Act and the rule of law. Texas will not tolerate it. So far, neither will the Supreme Court.
WASHINGTON – In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to require the state to obtain federal permission before implementing voting changes, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“In the wake of the Shelby County Supreme Court decision which gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, today’s announcement is heartening for those of us who care about protecting access to the ballot box for all. The Roberts Court decision did not affect the Justice Department’s ability under the VRA to ask a court to require preclearance as necessary for specific jurisdictions, including those that had been automatically covered by the now-defunct congressional formula in Section 4. The safeguard of preclearance is still urgently needed, and Texas’ rush to advance a discriminatory voter ID law just hours after the Supreme Court decision came down is a case in point. We applaud the Justice Department’s new effort to protect Americans’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. We also continue to urge Congress to adopt a new preclearance formula to restore this important civil rights statute.”
Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas spoke about his role in the anti-choice demonstrations in Austin, Texas, yesterday with the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios, who in turn shared with Jeffress the real force behind abortion rights: promiscuous men.
“It is generally, from my opinion, the promiscuous white men who are pushing abortion,” Rios said. “I would even say the promiscuous black ones like our president, oh forgive me I shouldn’t say that, but they’re the ones who want sexual license, they do not want responsibility; abortion has always helped men more than it helps women.”
Jeffress predicted that the Supreme Court might take up a new challenge to Roe and claimed that “Roe v. Wade was the Dred Scott decision of our generation.”
The megachurch pastor maintained that abortion rights opponents will “buy a little more time for our country before God’s judgment” comes to America for decriminalizing abortion, just as God punished Israel and Nazi Germany: “He raised up the Babylonians and the Assyrians to judge Israel for engaging in child sacrifice; he raised up the Allied forces to crush Nazi Germany for taking kids to the gas chambers by the trainloads.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee today held a hearing for the first of President Obama’s three recent nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, attorney Patricia Ann Millett. Republican committee members, having no actual objections to Millett’s qualifications, used the opportunity to grandstand about what they see as the enormous injustice of a Democratic president nominating people to open seats on the federal judiciary.
Chief among the grandstanders, of course, was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who spent most of his time telling Millett that Republican opposition to her nomination has nothing to do with her and has everything to do with President Obama’s supposed effort to “pack” the DC Circuit.
Very little of what he said had any basis in reality. He started out by claiming that the DC Circuit is currently “evenly divided” between Democratic and Republican nominees and that President Obama and Democrats are now trying to “pack the court” with Obama’s nominees:
Right now, the DC Circuit is evenly divided among active judges, with four Republicans and four Democrats. And you find yourself one of three nominees from the president. The president and senior Democrats on this committee have made clear that they want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit. They want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit, and unfortunately I believe part of this pressure, part of the effort of stopping qualified Republican nominees and then deciding to pick a fight now, is a desire to pack the court.
While it’s true that there are currently four Democratic nominees and four Republican nominees in active service on the court, Cruz obscures the fact that the court has an active backbench of six senior judges – five of whom are Republican nominees:
This imbalance exists because Republican presidents have nominated the bulk of DC Circuit judges in the past three decades -- 15 of the last 19 confirmed to the DC Circuit were nominated by Republicans. Far from “packing” the court, President Obama has had fewer judges confirmed to the DC Circuit than any of his four most recent predecessors.
Cruz continued, insisting that President Obama is trying to “pack” the court because it is “holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law”:
The DC Circuit has been a court that has been holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law. And I believe that there is an activist base that is pressuring the president, that has been pressuring senior Senate Democrats to get judicial nominees on the DC Circuit to protect the regulations coming from this administration. And I think any effort to pack the court because the administration doesn’t like the outcomes of judges applying the law fairly should be decried.
What Cruz is referring to is the fact that the D.C. Circuit is currently dominated by right-wing Republican nominees, who have delved into far-right legal theory to strike down common-sense protections for workers, consumers and voters – you can read about some of their most appalling decisions here. President Obama is not trying to “pack” the court to get the decisions that he wants, as Cruz alleges. Instead, he is using his mandate from American voters to pick judges who will restore some ideological balance to one of the farthest-right courts in the country.
Finally, Cruz declares that his objections to Millett have nothing to do with her “very fine professional qualifications” and instead have to do with too much “partisan politics” in judicial confirmations – partisan politics which he seems to have very little interest in putting aside.
Because I think partisan politics has driven this committee’s approach to the DC Circuit for over a decade. And I think that’s unfortunate, I would rather see a situation where able judges are confirmed irrespective of that. But it is not consistent with our responsibility to let one party prevent qualified judges from going to the court, and at the same time to enable packing the court to reach preferred outcomes. So I thank you for being here, and I think it’s regrettable, the overall context of this dispute, which as I said is irrespective of your very fine professional qualifications.
So, Cruz is refusing to support Millett, who he thinks is unquestionably qualified for the job, for purely political reasons… because he thinks the judicial nominations process has become too politicized.
As Texas lawmakers debate a bill that would shut down most of the state’s abortion providers, Texas Americans for Prosperity state director and GOP activist Peggy Venable yesterday tweeted that pro-choice women should “choose sterilization” as they are “nasty” and “simply should not procreate.” The Texas Freedom Network grabbed the tweet before she took it down:
Venable has since called the tweet a “lame attempt at humor” and apologized.
Texas Republican state senator Dan Patrick is not impressed by Wendy Davis. Despite Davis’ all day filibuster of an anti-choice bill, Patrick thinks he is the one that deserves the praise. Patrick, the sponsor of the bill, told Mike Huckabee today that he urged his fellow Republicans to break Senate tradition and stop the filibuster.
He compared his action to Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees for placing too much importance on “laws and rules.” Patrick went on to encourage other senators to similarly cast off the law, asking, “Are we going to become the modern day Pharisees as Republicans of the Senate?”
Patrick also criticized the crowd that turned out to support Davis, calling it an “organized mob” carrying out an attack on the government. He blamed their behavior on the fact that they were Democrats, because “a tea party would never do this.”
Guest post from Robin Lane, alumni board member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Tuesday afternoon in Austin, I arrived at the Capitol and was swallowed in a sea of orange, ready to support Senator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of Senate Bill 5. Sen. Davis began by reading the testimonies of women who would be affected by SB5, limiting abortion rights in Texas, getting so emotional reading one woman’s story that she struggled to continue speaking through her tears. Senators Watson, Van de Putte, and West helped her buy time. We cheered every time we heard someone say, “Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President.” The filibuster continued late into the evening.
At 11:30, Sen. Watson had the floor. Sen. West requested that the motion to close the previous question be put into writing, “in as large a font as possible.” I couldn’t breathe. And then, Sen. Van de Putte made the comment that erupted the entire Capitol: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Sen. Duncan announced over the noise, “We will have to suspend the vote until the gallery is in order.” The clock ran out. At midnight, the auditorium erupted in cheers. But when all of the Senators remained in front of the podium, the cheers faded. Several news outlets reported that SB5 passed. Conflicting outcomes were coming in droves.
A large crowd from the auditorium raced upstairs into the rotunda and the sight took my breath away – every inch was packed with people chanting. At around 2:15 AM, we heard a text message sent from Sen. Davis to an ally in the rotunda: Senate Bill 5 was officially dead. There was a request to sing, “The Eyes of Texas,” and the Capitol sang together. Someone raised a Texas flag on the rotunda floor. People were crying.
I have never been so proud to call myself a Texan.
Although I didn’t grow up in the Lone Star state, my mother did – and so did my grandmother, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather. Texas is in my blood. I came to Texas after leaving the University of Pittsburgh, where I had been organizing for reproductive justice since 2007. I came because I saw so clearly how my issue intersected with the struggles of communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, education justice, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, and food justice – and I saw Texas as ground-zero for many of these battles. We won the battle, for now, on SB5 – but with Section 4 of the Voting Rights struck down, Texas immediately began advancing a discriminatory redistricting plan. A woman in San Antonio is in deportation proceedings after she took her sick child to the hospital. Senators Cornyn and Cruz continue to fight us on truly inclusive immigration reform. And on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called another special session of the Texas legislature, set for July 1, to act on the sweeping anti-choice proposals. Yes, we won this battle – but the war continues.
Still, the victory at the Capitol this week inspired me to keep up the difficult work of organizing in the state of Texas – from now until the next election, and beyond.
It’s been a chaotic week for the Texas legislature, but the drama isn’t over. Following state Senator Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster of a bill that would limit Texas women’s access to abortion, Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special session to push the legislation through.
The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy – with no exceptions – and would place burdensome requirements on abortion providers, effectively shutting down all but five clinics in the state.
Sen. Davis filibustered the legislation for more than twelve hours and, with the aid of hundreds of protesters, effectively blocked Senate Bill 5 from passing the Senate and reaching the governor’s desk before midnight. Davis was championed around the country as a political celebrity standing, quite literally, for women’s rights. People For the American Way recognized Davis’ efforts, encouraging members to sign a note of appreciation and support.
However, her victory may be short lived.
Perry called the first special session to give the legislature more time to consider anti-choice legislation that failed to advance during the regular legislative period. A special session follows different rules than the normal session, as the governor has sole discretion over what the legislature can work on. Perry said that the legislature also failed to pass bills on infrastructure funding and mandatory life sentences for 17 year-olds committing capital felonies, providing convenient additional justifications for the necessity of a second session. Perry said,
"Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."
Davis refused to let Perry’s affront go unanswered, firing back that it was Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst who had “led the charge” in the breakdown of decorum and “made a mockery of all of the rules we run by in this state.”
As the New York Times reported yesterday, it is unlikely that the Democrats will manage to block the bill for another 30-day session. It will probably pass. But as the governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, even a successful second filibuster may not be enough to stop the Republicans’ anti-choice agenda.
The second session begins July 1st. The war on women rages on.