- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Houston Chronicle. May 11, 2016.

Potty politics: The transgender restroom controversy is a hoax crafted by ideologues for scapegoating

If you relished our HERO feud last fall, then Super-HERO will be just your cup of tea. That’s what we’re calling Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s benighted plan to take the rancor, fear and paranoia engendered by the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance battle, swirl it into a nasty concoction and franchise it statewide.

The Pecksniffian Mr. Patrick, always on the lookout for an opportunity to sow seeds of discord in a godly cause, announced recently that Texas needs a North Carolina-style law to keep transgender people out of what Patrick considers the wrong restroom.

You’ve heard about the problem Patrick and other bathroom-fixated ideologues and opportunists are so bravely seeking to address, right? Surely you’ve heard about the hordes of hairy-legged men donning calico dresses, invading women’s restrooms and preying on young girls. To hear Patrick tell it, the perversion is so pervasive we’re surprised he’s not calling for an immediate special legislative session. Maybe he’ll even find funds for statewide potty patrols (similar, perhaps, to the stick-wielding enforcers of public morality in some Arab countries).

Meanwhile, Patrick and Ken Paxton, the state’s law-breaking top law-enforcement official, are trying to bully the superintendent of the Fort Worth public schools into resigning. Kent Scribner has to go, they say, because he put in place policies designed to protect transgender students from discrimination. Fortunately, local control still prevails, for now, at least.

Patrick’s not only talking tough, he’s predicting apocalypse. “The handwriting is on the bathroom wall: Stay out of the ladies’ room if you’re a man,” he warned the other day. “If it costs me an election, if it costs me a lot of grief, then so be it. If we can’t fight for something this basic, then we’ve lost our country.” (We’re trying to imagine a 24th-century Edward Gibbon ascribing the decline and fall of the American Empire to hairy-legged men wearing dresses.)

Patrick’s latest crusade suggests that he’s still the same self-promoter who painted himself “Luv Ya, Blue” as a TV shock jock, the same guy who subjected radio listeners to his on-air vasectomy. He may affect the gravitas of lieutenant governor, but Patrick is not a serious man.

A serious elected official would spend his time and energy on serious issues. Most Texans can name quite a few: public education, higher education, health care, foster care, transportation, climate change, storm protection, tax reform. the list could go on. One other thing: A serious man would not scapegoat a group of people who already have problems with public understanding and acceptance.

Beyond Houston’s experience, we can look to North Carolina to see the kind of chaos and controversy Patrick is courting. After lawmakers in a quickie special session passed a law that bars transgender people from using restrooms that don’t correspond to the sex designation on their birth certificates, entertainers, sports groups and businesses responded by saying no to the Tarheel State. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit, claiming the measure violates the Civil Rights Act; North Carolina has counter-sued. Apparently, that’s the divisive outcome Patrick seeks for Texas.

It’s not often that we quote Donald Trump approvingly, but on the so-called bathroom issue, he was right when he asked, in effect, “What’s the problem?”

The problem, of course, is not transgender restroom usage; that’s a hoax crafted for scapegoating. The problem is pandering politicians who are wasting time and taxpayers’ money. The problem is Dan Patrick.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times. May 11, 2016.

Texas doesn’t need bathroom law or Patrick

On the matter of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick inviting lawmakers to file a transgender-discriminatory bathroom bill, declaring a boycott of Target for its transgender-friendly bathroom policy, and calling for the Fort Worth school superintendent to resign because he established a compassionate bathroom policy to protect students - where do we start?

At the beginning? On the moral high ground that bathroom laws like the one approved in North Carolina and encouraged here by Patrick, requiring people to use the bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates, are a mean-spirited outrage against justice? This is not the safety or religion-based moral issue that Patrick seeks to frame. It’s just an ugly excuse to discriminate against transgender people. We shouldn’t have to point out that discrimination is wrong. Did we all learn nothing from Dr. King?

Should we start with a lieutenant governor’s real priorities? He is the presiding officer of the upper house of the Texas Legislature, whose top priority in the next session should be school finance. The cyclical declaration that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional is pending. Whether the Legislature overhauls the system or not, it still will have to grapple with school finance and balancing a budget with state revenue down because of the oil crash.

Should we begin instead with the doctrine of home rule? Patrick and his ilk are all for local control and less government unless somebody somewhere, like Fort Worth Superintendent Kent Scribner, isn’t doing something their way. Not being a Fort Worth resident - Patrick is from Houston - amplifies the insult to Scribner and Fort Worth. Applause, by the way, for Scribner for declining to resign and for expressing pride in his school district’s bathroom guidelines. He should be proud.

Regarding the safety issue, generally, bad things that happen in bathrooms aren’t perpetrated by transgender women in women’s bathrooms. Usually they’re perpetrated in men’s rooms by men against men or boys. And it’s weird, fanciful thinking that gender identity-friendly bathroom policies by Target, the Fort Worth ISD or any other entity create an opportunity for predatory males to declare themselves in touch with their feminine side on a given day so they can enter a women’s room and attack women and girls.

A bathroom law like the one passed by North Carolina and encouraged in Texas by Patrick creates a safety issue that didn’t exist previously, by forcing transgender women into men’s rooms where the reception isn’t likely to be friendly. But maybe it’s just a theoretical danger because a law like North Carolina’s is easily ignored and tricky to enforce.

A bathroom bill in Texas’ next legislative session would be like the open-carry law of the 2015 session - a time-draining distraction from real issues. We don’t mean to demean the issue’s importance to transgender people and to anyone with a sense of justice. It’s a significant issue, but only if it is raised. It should be left alone.

This is another example of blatant political opportunism by Patrick, who made a big show of opposing same-sex marriage and exhibits a pattern of the kind of judgmental piety Jesus opposed. He is a polarizer, not a uniter.

So where do we end? Where we usually do with Patrick - reminding our readers that we recommended strongly against his election in 2014. It’s telling that the first comment on the Texas Tribune story about his seeking the Fort Worth superintendent’s resignation addressed Patrick by the surname on his birth certificate - Goeb. Patrick had his name changed legally to his broadcast stage name. Leave it to a phony to drum up a phony issue.

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San Antonio Express-News. May 16, 2016.

Transgender issue is pure fiction

Texas should focus on problems that exist, not on those that don’t and are never likely to.

Welcome to the latest permutation in our ongoing culture wars - the transgender community and which bathrooms it uses.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently said he supports keeping people who are listed as males on their birth certificates out of women’s bathrooms, even if it takes legislation to accomplish this. Patrick is the Senate president and it’s likely that someone will submit yet another “potty” bill to please him.

He doubled down afterward, trying to impose his will on a local school district whose superintendent is allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that fit their gender identity. He demanded the resignation of superintendent Kent Paredes Scriber and staged a press conference before a school board meeting of the Fort Worth Independent School District on Tuesday. And what did he urge of the board? Discrimination against an already besieged group among other things.

That’s how the federal government views it. The administration is reportedly preparing a directive instructing school districts to allow students to use restrooms according to their gender identity. While this would not have the force of law, it is a signal that the federal government could sue districts who veer from this policy.

Patrick was among the first to condemn the directive, declaring that this means the end of public education as we know it. He is wrong on a couple of levels. First, for scaremongering on a non-issue - transgenders now use public restrooms of their choice unnoticed and without incident - and second for intruding on local affairs. He argues that the federal directive is a better example of such intrusion. But the sad fact is that the federal government is often the protector of last resort in matters of discrimination when states fail to act or when the states are, in fact, what citizens need to be protected from.

Last year, Houston voters approved an ordinance that repealed HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. To help win the day, repeal supporters raised the specter of cross-dressing sexual predators assaulting wives and daughters in public restrooms.

If Texas approves legislation that mandates that people use only the restroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, it will be following North Carolina. That state’s actions drew national protest and business backlash.

Patrick says no such backlash occurred in Houston. But we’re certain it will occur if Texas acts. North Carolina has suffered economic harm and has been sued by the federal government, which says it can withhold federal funds for violating civil rights. Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who is backing North Carolina’s move, invite the same sort of risk for Texas if they block transgender rights.

But the arguments do not center solely on the pocketbook. It is about singling out an already misunderstood and demonized community for more scaremongering and stigmatization.

This is real. It is not a lifestyle choice, the fashionable description used at one time for gays and lesbians. And, just as gay men were often falsely depicted as predators, so, too, are transgender people in this case.

Who, by the way, is going to be monitoring genitalia at the bathroom door? If this were a real threat, you’d think real predators would long ago have started donning dresses. And aren’t women who are listed as males on their birth certificates exposing themselves to the risk of sexual assault if they use the men’s restroom?

In important respects, transgender people genuinely don’t feel they are the gender their birth certificates say they are. But they’re there solely to use the restroom in any case.

Eighty-two percent of sexual assault victims know their attackers. Stranger rape is at 18 percent. But supporters of such bills have trouble coming up with instances in which transgender predators have fulfilled that stranger-rape scenario in restrooms.

The Texas Legislature should defy Patrick and move on to real problems.

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Amarillo Globe-News. May 12, 2016.

Secession is happening now

The Texas State Republican Convention is in full swing in Dallas, and it is interesting the issues on which the media chooses to pounce.

For some reason, Texas secession is again a focal point.

Secession refers to the state of Texas opting to leave the Union and become its own nation, as it was from 1836-1845.

Let’s just say things have changed since 1845, and the likelihood of Texas again becoming its own nation as about as likely Bernie Sanders embracing capitalism.

While discussion regarding secession during the GOP convention is possible, and could occur today, don’t expect the issue to go much of anywhere.

As Texas GOP chairman Tom Mechler, who happens to hail from Amarillo, was quoted as saying (according to the Houston Chronicle): “He (Mechler) would be ‘very surprised’ if that many (resolutions calling for a vote on secession) had indeed passed (district and/or county) conventions.”

Also from the Chronicle, Mechler said the Nationalist Movement (the group pushing secession) was not a Republican group, and was using the state party apparatus to push its cause. “‘Republican is not even in their name,’ Mechler said.”

While some on the left like to jump on the Texas secession issue as an example of GOP extremism, there are many other examples of secession that do not generate much media attention.

When states pick and choose which federal laws they want to enforce and which they want to ignore, the argument can be made that such a policy is a form of secession. What else would you call it, but a form of secession when individual states thumb their noses at the federal government and do as they please when it comes to federal laws?

For example, is it not a form of secession when so-called “sanctuary cities” take it upon themselves to determine how and when federal immigration laws are enforced? And what of cities and states that determine for themselves whether marijuana should be sold and distributed legally, regardless of federal law?

Granted, the federal government is sometimes complicit in this form of secession by refusing to do much of anything in response to the non-enforcement of federal laws.

However, states that want to protect the integrity of the ballot box with voter ID laws face the wrath of the federal government.

According to www.merriam-webster.com, the “full definition” of secession is “withdrawal into privacy or solitude” or “formal withdrawal from an organization.”

From this perspective, the argument can be made secession is already happening.

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The (Bryan-College Station) Eagle. May 15, 2016.

Lawmakers now must fix public education

Friday’s unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Texas that, though flawed, the state’s method of funding public education meets constitutional requirements is a blow for those of who think Texas can do a better job - a much better job - educating our children.

The decision brings to an end a five-year-long lawsuit by more than 600 of the state’s 1,265 school districts asserting that the “Robin Hood” plan of paying for schooling violates the Texas Constitution. Under the plan, districts with high property values help pay to educate children in property-poor districts.

In ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that Texas can do better in educating our children, but said that is a matter for the Legislature to handle. Writing for the court, Justice Don Willett said figuring out the state’s complicated funding plan is “mind numbing.”

“But our judicial responsibility is not to second-guess or micromanage Texas education policy or to issue edicts from on high increasing financial inputs in hopes of increasing educational outputs,” Willett said.

Willett wrote, “There doubtless exist innovative reform measures to make Texas schools more accountable and efficient, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Judicial review, however, does not license second-guessing the political branches’ policy choices, or substituting the wisdom of nine judges for that of 181 lawmakers.”

So, the question of education funding rightly goes back to the Legislature, which for years has preferred to let the state’s courts make the tough decisions on how to pay for public schools. Lawmakers meet again in regular session in January and fair and equitable funding for education must be their No. 1 priority. After some three decades of funding schemes and subsequent lawsuits, it is past time for legislators to get it right.

Gov. Greg Abbott - a former justice on the Supreme Court and a former Texas attorney general - and Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision. “Today’s ruling is a victory for Texas taxpayers and the Texas Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision ends years of wasteful litigation by correctly recognizing that courts do not have the authority to micromanage the State’s school finance system,” Abbott said in a statement that made no mention of the need to improve education in the state that ranks near the bottom in far too many categories.

Not surprisingly, Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers, condemned the decision: “The deeply conservative court has held that the state system of school funding meets minimum constitutional requirements, but facts are stubborn things, and the facts remain that Texas schools are underfunded, inequitably funded, and force an inordinate share of the cost of education onto local school districts and their taxpayers, while the state fails to do its full part.”

The question yet to be answered is how do we ensure that children in the poorest school district in South Texas get the same chance at a quality education as students in districts such as those in College Station and Bryan.

In his opinion, Willett wrote, “Few would argue that the State cannot do better.”

Noting that 60 percent of Texas students come from economically disadvantaged families - a number that, not surprisingly, has risen dramatically in the past decade - Justice Eva Guzman wrote in a concurring opinion, “I fully join the Court’s opinion and write separately to further emphasize that there is much more work to be done, particularly with respect to the population that represents the majority of the student base - economically disadvantaged students.” She was joined in that opinion by Justice Debra Lehrmann.

Texans say they are tired of state and federal courts making the important decisions about the way the state is governed, but they fail to demand that their lawmakers seriously address the multitude of issues facing a state bursting at the seams with more and more residents. The choices certainly aren’t easy, but, we can hope, addressing them is why our representatives and senators run for office.

Every state representative in Texas is up for election in November. Let’s all ask them tough questions and then demand they do what they say they will.

Our children, our residents, our state demand it.


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