The truth about states’ rights

Rick Perry stirred up a debate in the Republican party when he told reporters that he did object to New York legalizing gay marriage since this was a matter was best left to the states.

Gary Bauer, president of American Values, expressed outrage. A couple of quotes are revealing.

The 10th Amendment and states’ rights is very important to conservatives, but it’s not our highest value.”

“There are some things so fundamentally wrong that we have not left those things up to the states.”

Bauer and his conservative allies are embracing the principle that most Americans practice: States rights matter–unless something matters more.

Both liberals and conservatives are willing to put aside states’ rights to pursue higher values or right things that are fundamentally wrong. Perry’s firm stance for the Tenth Amendment illustrates the lack of commitment to the Tenth Amendment and should open an interesting debate on where states’ rights stands with Americans.

**Update**

It turns out that Perry is a little more flexible on states’ rights than I thought. He would support overriding the Tenth Amendment with constitutional amendments that took away states’ rights to define marriage or permit abortions.

Open government in Texas

Americans generally accept some secrets in government in the short-term for security reasons because we know that the truth will eventually come out.

Not so much in Texas.

As it turns out, the Texas Department of Public safety “purged” their records of information related to the security costs of the Governor prior to 2008. This little fit of housecleaning occurred despite media and watchdog group requests for this information. In a suspicious Catch-22, we have been assured that releasing such information at the time would compromise security. We are also told  that this information can not be retained so that spending could be scrutinized at a later date.

Texas taxpayers will never be told how much money is spent on the Governor’s security as he traveled around his various official and political activities. This flies in the face of the state’s long history of open government.

Democracy needs citizens to have access to the information they can use to the performance of their government. The call for openness has been bipartisan and Perry’s continued opposition to open government should not be mistaken for conservatism simply because if protects the political ambitions of a conservative candidate. Ironically, Perry’s latest fight against open government comes as he is seeking the support of “Tea Party” supporters who distrust government.

This is not Perry’s first clash with advocates of open government. In 2007 the Governor’s office began a battle with John Washburn and other advocates of open government who learned that the governor’s office was routinely deleting email records in an attempt to keep their activities from being scrutinized.

**July 25 Update**

The DPS is now saying that they actually saved some of those records. However, they’re still not interested in letting the public in on their secret.

Six Flags Over Texas turns 50

Me (center) at Six Flags in 1962

Six Flags Over Texas opened on August 5, 1961. I made my first visit on June 13, 1962, but I’m celebrating the 50th anniversary of the park with everyone else this year in acknowledgement that the park existed before I arrived.

I have been to Six Flags repeatedly over the years and I now take my daughter there for several days every year. I have also developed a collection of Six Flags items including postcards from the earliest days of the park. I thought I would revisit some of the old cards before I visit the park again this week.

Here are some of my favorites with their original captions.

"CROCODILE ATTACK -- French Section: Here visitors experience high adventure as they explore the dangerous Lavaca River with adventurer Rene Cavelier Sieur de LaSalle and his men."

 

"THE 'ASTROLIFT' AND HUMBLE'S HAPPY MOTORING FREEWAY -- Modern U.S.A.: Here visitors drive futuramic sports cars over the highways of tomorrow. The 'Astrolift' transports passengers 50 feet in the air along a 1,050 foot cable for a panoramic view of the entire park."

 

"TAKE COVER! -- French Section: A salvo from a Spanish Fort sends up geysers of water around a boatload of adventurers. Many hazards still away those who dare venture with Frenchman Cavalier De LaSalle in his search for the Mississippi River."

 

"ANIMAL KINGDOM -- U. S. Section: The baby elephant and his constant companion, the white burro, are visited by a typical Texas Cowgal. Here baby animals from all over the world can be seen and, in most cases, petted by visitors to Six Flags Over Texas."

 

FIESTA TRAIN -- Mexican Section: Here visitors ride the gay fiesta train. Colorful animated Mexican characters lend a contagious holiday spirit at Texas' exciting new entertainment center.

 

"QUICK-DRAW POKER -- Texas Section: Judge Roy Bean and his friends play a hand of Frontier Poker while awaiting the next session of court. The hangman's noose is ready for action, for outlaws receive quick justice here at Six Flags Over Texas."

 

"CHOW CALL -- U.S.A. Section: Feeding time for the harbor seals in the unique Animal Kingdom at Six Flags Over Texas. The Animal Kingdom has many varieties of strange and familiar animals from all over the world for you to feed and pet."

 

"ANIMAL KINGDOM -- U.S. Section: Under colorful canopies, visitors young and old come to Six Flags Over Texas to feed and pet baby animals of all kinds in perfect safety."

 

"BUTTERFIELD STAGE RUN -- Confederate Section: The Butterfield Overland Stagecoach carries visitors through buffalo country at Six Flags Over Texas."

The chain has gone national and the historic themes have largely been brushed aside. Still, Six Flags Over Texas still tells us something about our state and how Texans see ourselves.

Vetoing the texting-while-driving bill

On June 17, Governor Perry vetoed H.B. 242 that would have made texting while driving illegal. Perry’s veto statement cited a civil liberties argument calling the bill “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Perry’s decision is part of a fundamental debate about the proper role of the government. Perry is correct that the government is attempting to manage the behavior of adults. The debate is really what are reasonable limits.

Everyone in America talks about “freedom.” What you learn watching politics is that people have very different ideas about what the limits of freedom should be. Social conservatives want to use government to tell you can not do one set of things, liberals often want to keep you from doing different things. There are those libertarians out there (you can check out the Libertarian Party yourself) who would let you do pretty much anything: drugs, prostitution, and texting while driving.

You can no longer have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle in Texas–even if the driver is not drinking from it or hasn’t had enough to be impaired by alcohol. That is a comparable restriction to the texting ban. Adults are being prohibited from doing something even if it may not have not impacted the safety of others. As Ben Wear pointed out in the Austin-American Statesman, Perry signed a bill in 2009 mandating that passengers in the back seat of a car wear seat belts. That law is just as intrusive as HB 242 and certainly has less impact on the safety of other drivers. More recently, Perry sung the praises of legislation that requires pregnant women to get sonograms before they can have an abortion.

Almost all of the people who attain power are anxious to use it to shape behavior. They believe in freedom but find exceptions. Perry’s veto decision does not make much sense to me, but it may to someone else.

The “Big Rich” in Texas politics

The role of big donors was back on display this week as the Koch brothers hosted one of their semi-annual gatherings. Billionaires Charles and David Koch have been hosting meetings that bring together some of the biggest conservative donors in the country with some of the nation’s leading conservative politicians. This year the event is drawing the state’s attention because Rick Perry is attending.

The Big Rich by Bryan Burrough I thought the meeting was especially interesting because I have been reading Bryan Burrough’s The Big Rich: The rise and fall of the greatest Texas oil fortunes. Part of what he documents is how the men who made billions off oil translated that into political power.

Perry’s staff and others have been defending the meetings saying that it’s completely legal and that both sides have similar meetings. That is true.

That does not keep me from worrying.

Here are the problems.

  1. The argument that “both sides” have these kinds of meetings does not mean that all sides do. Also, maybe a billionaire is not a typical liberal/conservative.
  2. These wealthy donors have interests that go beyond broad ideological concerns. The access they gain through their donations is used to seek very specific business or personal favors.
  3. Saying that something is not a violation of current campaign finance laws should lead you to ask as many questions about the law as the activity. The fact that what powerful political interests want to do is permitted may result more from the exercise of power in the past than the morality of what they are doing now. There is a difference between what is right and what is permitted by law.

Those of you that have some billionaires somewhere in America interested in you cause are finding a voice through meeting like this. The rest of us…