That Texas redistricting trial that started up yesterday in federal court in San Antonio? Watch that one. It could be third side of the magic triangle that turns Texas blue.
The trial is not about whether the tea-tinged Republican-dominated Texas Legislature gerrymandered the vote maps in 2011. Asked and answered. Two years ago a panel of federal judges in San Antonio tossed out the Texas maps and drew new ones with more Democrat-friendly districts.
This trial is about why. Texas Republicans are arguing they didn't put their thumbs on the scales to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics, only to discriminate against Democrats. It's a fine point. Under last year's ruling by the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court, discriminating against Democrats is totally OK, but racial discrimination is not quite yet totally OK.
Justice Department lawyers in San Antonio this week will try to prove the Republicans are lying. They will work to show that the Legislature in 2011 conspired to keep people from voting because they were the wrong color, not the wrong party. If they make that case, the Justice Department can put Texas back under tougher "pre-clearance" monitoring provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a fate Texas would have evaded under the Supreme Court's new sure-why-not rule on certain kinds of non-ethnic discrimination.
That's the legal issue. But more important to us here in Texas is the picture -- a combination of factors that say no matter what kind of lip service the party may give to "outreach," these Texas Republicans really don't like people who don't look like them, and we all know what they look like. That's what will motivate the voter turnout needed to turn Texas blue.
Let's look at the other two legs of my iron triangle -- 1) Dan Patrick and 2) border baby haters. Lieutenant governor candidate Patrick has been going around the state beating a big drum about what he calls the "illegal invasion" of Texas at the border, making him a political type we haven't seen in Texas yet exactly -- the "anti-immigration pied piper" as one observer put it recently. Think of immigrant-bashing Republicans elsewhere -- Arizona Governor Jan Brewer or Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So far, for whatever reason, we haven't really had one of those, if you don't count random bucolic sightings of Tony Tinderholt or the occasional disturbing jack-in-the-box appearance by Steve Stockman.
Those guys are small fry, Tinderholt a mere candidate for the state House and Stockman a congressman from a Tea Party district. Dan Patrick is the man. He's the guy the Texas Republican Party would have us have for lieutenant governor -- their standard-bearer.
The other leg, the border baby haters, is so obvious I shouldn't have to elaborate. Once you hate kids, there's no stopping you. In the past our Republican governor, Rick Perry, has not been an anti-immigration pied piper, really, but he has been getting closer to it recently in some of his baby-hater talk. Perry believes President Obama has a secret mechanism for controlling the behavior of the children of Central America. Perry borrows on the one hand from state Senator Debbie Riddles' 2010 "terror babies" narrative and on the other from "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," a tale from the Brothers Grimm.
Assuming that people are stupid tends to piss them off and stir them up. Hate to say it, but in this case that's a good thing. The game with Hispanic voters is all about motivation. Nationally, more qualified Hispanic voters do not vote than vote, according to Pew Research. In Texas, Hispanic turnout is way worse than it is nationally -- 39 percent in 2012 in Texas compared with 48 percent nationally for eligible Hispanic voters. While those Hispanics who do vote have been overwhelmingly supportive of President Obama, only 56 percent of qualified Hispanic voters in Texas self-identify as Democrats.
That's wobbly. Sylvia Manzano, a principal at Latino Decisions, an opinion research company, told the Texas Tribune last February that Hispanic voters in Texas could still tilt either way. "It's a matter of come and take it," she said.
So back to my triangle: 1) Dan ("Illegal Invasion!") Patrick for lieutenant governor; 2) border baby haters; and 3) the San Antonio trial ("Yes, they did too try to keep non-whites from voting"). I think that about tilts it.
This isn't just identity politics. By clearly conveying the underlying racism of the Tea-publican mentality, my iron triangle of elements gives all of us the key to understanding the anti-government radicalism of the far right. This is a generation of white folks who were only too happy to accept almost-free state university tuition, not to mention Medicare, Social Security, prescription subsidies -- oh, the list goes on forever -- back when they thought the country was all about white people. They only turned anarchist when they turned on their TVs and found out the first family was black.
Race is not at the bottom of everything. The exciting news about our state and nation is the number of families, white, black and Latino, who have transcended race for the most part since 1965. Nor is it fair to paint the Republican Party generally as racist. Republicans have as good a history on civil rights as Democrats. George W. Bush was an immigration reformer, not a baby hater.
But race is very much at the bottom of the Tea-publican phenomenon. Watch the comments today. The first thing the Teapers will say is, "What race? Never heard of it." Yeah, sure. Watch that trial. Hope for a good show. We might make it after all.
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