To me, if tonight proved anything, it’s the futility of voting.
I was down at the Texas Capitol, watching the crowd defeat the anti-abortion bill, and a friend in Europe asked me to explain the last 24 hours in American politics to her. So I tried. Here goes.
There’s actually three major things going on here, at the city, state, and national level. The national thing is mostly unrelated. The city and the state thing are deeply related. Let’s start National.
The Bush-packed Supreme Court today voted to overturn the Voting Rights Act, which is more of a mixed curse than a mixed blessing. It’s a pure gerrymandering ploy — the VRA imposed specific restrictions on the South because of the history of racism and voter suppression here, and the Reds need to gerrymander like mad to keep their death grip on things. You may recall that it was the VRA that messed up Tom DeLay’s re-redistricting shenanigans in 2004, which is going to be important later.
I don’t really care too much about the VRA, though it’s obviously there for good reason — the South is racist as fuck and all about, totally all about suppressing the vote. The reason I don’t care is because the Reds are running out of people to disenfranchise. Their demographic winter is not just on the way, it’s here. So fucking with the VRA is only going to give them one more election, if that many, and I doubt that much. Meanwhile, it fucking INFURIATES a lot of people who already hated them, and pretty much writes off the black vote forever and ever. This is important because it’s just another sign the Reds are burning the deck chairs — they’re out of ammo. Unrestricted redistricting is the only way they have to hold on, and they know it.
Now to the city and the state thing.
There are two major things going on in Texas right now, and a third thing created by the intersection of these two things. The one you probably don’t know much about is the Rosemary Lehmberg thing. It’s really complicated, but long story short the Travis County District Attorney was caught drinking and driving and acting the fool a few months ago. This is an enormous deal, because (as you’ve seen tonight) Travis County/Austin (same thing) is an independent political entity in Texas, and it’s strongly Democratic, but it’s Democratic for really weird reasons. We have two types of Dems here; young progressives and old Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) Machine Democrats. The young progressives think we’re all on the same side and the LBJ Machine is happy to let them think that, but I have to make something clear here — the LBJ Machine is every bit as evil and awful and hideous as the Republican machine. There’s no major difference between the two except one is willing to pretend to like us when it suits them, and they are in opposition to each other.
This is going to loop into the abortion thing. I apologize, but it’s all really complicated.
Lehmberg is the direct inheritor of the Johnson Machine. Direct. She got the job from Ronnie Earle, who was the guy who took out Tom DeLay. How, you ask, did a county DA take out a national politician? Because, for LBJ machine reasons, the state Ethics Commission is run…by the Travis County DA. That’s right, you’ve got a statewide office run entirely by one local elected official, and that elected official is in the only reliably Democratic district in the entire state. AND THIS OFFICE HAS BEEN USED TO TAKE DOWN NATIONAL POLITICIANS. REPUBLICAN NATIONAL POLITICIANS.
By drinking and driving and being dumb as a rock, Lehmberg (who is a prize sow, seriously, a very objectionable human being) gave Gov. Goodhair, Rick Perry, an enormous stick with which to beat the ethics commission that was investigating him. This has triggered an all-out brush war in Texas politics, because the people behind Lehmberg are very powerful, and neither side is willing to back down. This sets the stage for our special session. Alright, now to today’s events.
The majority of the Texas house are quite red, but there’s a lot of Dems too. During normal session you need (IIRC) 60% of the House to pass something, but in special session you only need 50%. The numbers are close enough that they could pass a lot of things in special session that they couldn’t otherwise, and there are three major factors here:
1. They knew the fix was in with the VRA, so they could pass some pretty draconian stuff about voting and it wouldn’t get knocked down. Which they did.
2. Lehmberg refuses to resign, saying that she must finish out her term and she won’t run again. This is insane, and only makes sense when you realize how much her office is worth (if she steps down, Perry appoints her replacement). Perry used this as an excuse to pass a new budget and then line-item vetoed *the Ethics Commission.* Because Lehmberg’s so bad, he’s shutting down the whole department.
3. Perry has decided, between then and now, that he’s gonna try for President again. Perry, as you may know, is a fucking genius at handing red meat to his goons. Seriously, seriously creative and brilliant at it. It’s the only trick he has, and it’s a good one.
So they used the special session to ram through some weird, weird shit. We have a new, restrictive “voter’s ID” law that is going to disenfranchise the poor and the disorganized, but the best part is, you can now vote with your concealed handgun permit. Seriously. They re-gerrymandered again (fourth time since I’ve lived here), and they know that the VRA is not gonna stop them and the Ethics Commission is out of commission, so even if they don’t replace Lehmberg (and they just shot that in the foot tonight) they don’t have to worry about her taking them out for improprieties. The redistricting was the main game, the abortion was a distraction/podium for Perry.
Before you get too happy about the abortion thing, let me tell you that they wiped the floor with us on redistricting. Not only that, but the whole thing was built to play Attorney General Abbott for a fool, and it succeeded. That’s important, because Abbott is totally conservative and a shoo-in for the next governor if Perry doesn’t run again. So when his own party is setting him up for a fall, you know Perry is going to run again.
But when that happened, they got the idea that the Democrats were out of action and they could act with impunity, so they go greedy and they went all-in on abortion. Keep in mind that they thought it was a slam dunk, and it would have been, if not for two things; neither of which have to do with voting.
The first is that, after years of beating, we’ve developed a tough new breed of Democrat who can actually play the game. We won the abortion thing on parliamentary maneuvers and mob pressure; voting had basically nothing to do with it. If you live in Texas now, you know who your rep is gonna be. There are not a lot of upsets in a state this gerrymandered. Your vote down here is as worthless as can be. What’s changed is that we have shed the clownish Blue Dogs of the 1990s and replaced them with people who can play.
It was not just Wendy Davis who made it happen, she was just the lead singer of the band (and a fine lead singer at that, could be a rock star). A huge number of other reps and their support staff got her to the point where she could filibuster, and they’re the ones that fought the rules that they pushed the Republicans to such an insane point that she was literally not allowed to lean on a table while filibustering. Because it doesn’t say in the law that you can lean on a table, ya know. That’s important later.
The second thing that happened is crowdsourcing. Austin is a pretty cybernetically aware city, and the ability to summon thousands of people, three times in a row, with no notice, to go yell at the Capitol, is absoLUTEly the main thing to come out of this. The Red reps now know that they can be surrounded and shouted down with little to no warning — it is easy for us, it is fun for us.
So what happened was that the city of Austin said no to the state of Texas. We, the city of Austin, vetoed this bill. That is literally what happened.
Ms. Davis is great, but her filibuster would have been meaningless had she delivered it in Fort Worth. Austin gave her the place to stand, and when her filibuster got taken out by meaningless nonsense it was the city of Austin who shut down the Capitol for the last half an hour to get to the end.
Now, they did get the vote passed, but because of the crowd it happened too late — at 12:02. Don’t ask me how that’s possible, I think I detect some sleight of hand there. But normally that would not be a problem. Normally the Reds would have been pleased to say “12:02 was close enough, there was a disturbance in the gallery, law’s passed.” But, by pushing them to put such insane strictures on the filibuster (they tried to get the filibuster stopped because Davis was wearing a back brace, and it doesn’t say anything in the law about her being able to wear a back brace) they provoked a situation where they had to follow their own rules. After all, if you make somebody run a gauntlet, after the gauntlet’s won you’re not allowed to whack them again. That’s just poor sportsmanship. It’s the exact reason we hate King Joffrey.
If Perry and company could keep their people under control they could have turned this around and made a victory out of this, because the Dems really did win on some parliamentary bullshit. But they are too fanatical, they can’t rein themselves in. They really thought they could get this passed.
If they’d tried SB5, dropped it earlier in the evening, and moved on, it would have been perfect. Perry would have seemed like an underdog champion for the pro-lifers (the pro-pain movement, I have decided to start calling them), and they would have gotten all the benefit without having to deal with the actual law, which they don’t really want passed.
But they fucked up, pushed it too far. They created a bona fide rock star in Davis, and they woke up the city of Austin. We knew our vote is meaningless, but we now know that we can walk to the Capitol and shout them down and that works even better.
Moreover, by trying some bullshit with moving the goalposts, the Reds made themselves look incredibly churlish.
If they’d lost gracefully they would have won. But they tried to win, and so they lost. They lost hard. It was pretty great.
Also the abortion thing got so big that it stopped them from some of their other dumber laws they were trying to get to. We got off light with the voting law thing, it coulda been a lot worse.
There are much bigger things going on, but the part that I just keep coming back to is Lehmberg. It’s really amazing to watch one drunk old women with a headful of nightmares get arrested for downing a fifth of vodka at the Alamo Drafthouse and trying to drive home, and then see the effects going all up and down the scale until it has national repercussions. It’s an amazing story, I want to write things that good. That pathetic crow is the butterfly effect.