Beyond being an incredible political drama, the Dallas Morning News said the crowd at the Capitol may be the largest in Texas history –Tuesday’s filibuster and protests against a draconian anti-abortion bill reminded us that Texas isn’t quite the Atwood-esque right-wing nightmare that foreigners often imagine. Oh, that’s bad, okay. Not only do Republicans have a supermajority in the state legislature and a deadly grip on the governor’s mansion, but the religious right dominates the Republican Party in a way unprecedented in state history. And yet, the state also has a proud and liberal streak, which rushed in in the form of hard-hitting protesters and Democrats like Senator Wendy Davis.
Davis in particular is a type well known to Texans and goes back a long way in his history: the wide Brassy Texas who are as stubborn and progressive as their hair is impeccable. Thought Barbara jordan, Ann richards, and Molly ivins. (Richards ‘daughter Cecile is the head of Planned Parenthood and was in Texas to show her support.) Davis also listens to the Texas Democrats’ long history of using high profile theaters to argue their point of view. The pink sneakers she wore during Tuesday’s filibuster aren’t even her best debate prop. Davis wore a Texas Christian University football helmet on the Senate floor when its first bill was adopted in 2009.
Having to fend off right-wing Christians obsessed with controlling sexuality is a burden that Texas liberals were long born with humor and common sense. This whole ordeal reminds me of one of my all-time favorite exchanges in the Texas legislature, now 20, when Rep. Warren Chisum pushed for an extension of the ban on sodomy, which only applied to ‘to homosexuals at the time, to heterosexuals. Rep. Debra Danburg decided to have him defend himself in an exchange that frankly never ceases to be funny, even if it ends with Chisum suggesting that people who have anal sex deserve to be executed. A selection, courtesy of Austin Chronicle:
“Mr. Chisum, are you trying to criminalize him even between the opposite sex, even if they’re married?” Danburg asked.
“Especially if they’re married,” he replied. “I can’t believe anyone would do this if they were married.”
Their quarrel escalated.
“If my husband and I were having sex and it affected my anus, do I have to go and see a health official?” Danburg asked.
“I suggest your husband go see a doctor about his goal,” Chisum replied.
Liberal women in Texas have been fighting this fight for a very long time, and they know how to do it.
This abortion debacle, like the big dildo wars and fights against the laws of sodomy before her, demonstrates the deep divisions that characterize Texas politics. While the primary system means Republicans who control the state are wholly on the hard right – what Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst recently learned when he failed to get out of the right Ted Cruz in the Republican primary for the Senate – Texas has a lot of liberal strongholds. It’s not just Austin, the famous liberal capital. All major cities in Texas and most of the counties bordering Mexico also vote strongly Democrats, as shown on this 2012 electoral map:
Texas will likely remain Republican for the foreseeable future, but more to be gained in the long run. Despite its rednecky image, Texas is incredibly racially diverse, only one in five states in the country where whites are in fact a minority. As the lists of colored voters grow, tough right-wing politics, as usual, will be harder to defend. This week’s abortion debate may just be a taste of what’s to come, especially since it has emboldened those often-quiet ranks of Texas liberals.