The Tea Party has pushed Texas politics so far to the right that bipartisanship now means the right wing cooperating with the far-right wing.
In their Senate primary, Ted Cruz branded the pro-life, pro-gun, anti-union David Dewhurst a moderate for the unpardonable sin of working with Democrats. By comparison, Cruz's crazy-pants webpage devoted to the conspiracy theory that the UN wants to abolish "golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads" generated little controversy in the media or among Republican partisans. It's a testament to how much Tea Party politics have changed our political environment that Cruz's black-helicopter hysteria occupies the same airspace as bipartisanship.
After the 2011 session, the idea that anyone could call Dewhurst moderate insults reason. Dewhurst cut education for the first time since the Great Depression, defunded Planned Parenthood, and passed a "state rape" sonogram bill to give women seeking abortions the shocking news that they were pregnant. He passed a Voter ID bill and a redistricting map so discriminatory toward Hispanics that federal judges tossed them. But because Dewhurst, a former officer in both the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency, refused to pick a fight with the Transportation Security Agency over pat downs, Dewhurst was deemed squishy to the hard-liners and therefore, however illogically, moderate.
Dewhurst now returns to the Texas Senate with his gavel tucked between his legs. Instead of asserting leadership over the upper chamber, Dewhurst is panting for the tea party's approval. The Dew has reportedly laid out his 2013 agenda, and at the top of his list is passing the same TSA anti-groping bill that he killed in 2011, followed by sanctuary cities and vouchers. Mitt Romney wasn't this obvious when he disavowed Romneycare by promising to veto Obamacare.
The TSA bill is a sideshow. Vouchers are the main event and why Dewhurst elevated ultra-conservative Sen. Dan Patrick to the chair of the Education Committee. A Tea Party favorite, Patrick isn't even bothering to pretend that he'll represent his entire district, much less look after the interests of Texas.
"To me, school choice is the photo ID bill of this session," said Patrick. "Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID for years, and we did it. They've been wanting us to pass school choice for years. This is the year to do it, in my view."
Rewind the tape: "Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID... " The Republicans who are running the show now in the legislature are not even pretending to consider all sides and evaluate the facts before deciding how to spend my tax money on my children. Patrick's naked admission of partisan political motivation lays bare that the Tea Party has predetermined not just the agenda but perhaps also the outcome of the 2013 legislative session.
Some may credit the Tea Party types with forcing fiscal discipline on unwilling establishment Republicans, but one man's fiscal discipline is another man's sadomasochistic ideology. It's easy to make ends meet when you raid your pension and stop paying child support, which is essentially what Rick Perry and the legislature have done by cutting education and health care funding for a growing population. Real discipline requires making hard decisions about how to equitably and adequately fund our public schools, not raiding them with private school vouchers. What passes for fiscal conservatism is nothing more than ideologically-driven cowardice.
The Republican Party's rightward lurch is hardly unique to Texas. Lest we forget, even Perry couldn't pass muster with the Tea Party because he signed a bill giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Republicans who still support the Earned Income Tax Credit, public broadcasting, and Planned Parenthood commit apostasy and invite primary challenges.
But on the national scale, Republicans have to worry about losing to Democrats. Here in Texas, Dewhurst is coming to Jesus on the TSA groping bill and Perry is finding Satan in the separation of church and state. And Texas Republicans will keep acting this way until they're more worried about losing to Democrats in general elections than they are about losing to tea party candidates in the primary.
On Nov. 4, 2012, The Austin American-Statesman posted this column on their website.