Getting interesting late: GOP Platform Committee restores Cook censure, doubles down against homosexuality

 

Good day Austin (and San Antonio):

A little before 9 last night, I left my dual posting at the side-by-side ballrooms where the Texas GOP Convention Platform/Resolutions and the Legislative Priorities committees were meeting until they were kicked out of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center at midnight, in order to walk down the hall a ways to cadge some coffee from the urn in the back of the room where the Rules Committee was meeting.

I had written a story a few hours before about how the Platform and Resolutions Committee had, on a voice vote, dismissed resolutions to censure U.S. Sen John Cornyn and three North Texas members of Congress, mostly for some budget votes, and also, by the narrowest margin, rejected a resolution to censure state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

Another censure resolution, directed at state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, failed by a single vote Wednesday. Cook is a top Straus lieutenant who, as chairman of the State Affairs Committee, enforced their shared priorities. Like Straus, he is retiring from the House.

Critics of the censures warned the party was forming a “circular firing squad.”

But Stephen Broden of Senate District 23 responded, to audience applause: “I understand the need for unity, but sometimes we have to excise those who are disruptive to that unity.” He cited Benedict Arnold, the most famous traitor in American history, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who in 1951 were convicted of espionage for the Soviet Union and put to death.

From the back of the room I saw Amy Hedtke doing what she does – live-streaming a public meeting – in this case the Rules Committee, which was of special interest because of the possibility that it might revise Rule 44, which enabled the local censure resolutions against Cornyn, the three congressmen, Cook and, earlier this year, the successful censure of House Speaker Joe Straus by the State Republican Executive Committee (which Hedtke live streamed.)

The Rules Committee resisted each and every attempt to water down Rule 44.

Hedtke is a unique individual.

Last May I devoted a First Reading to her –  Some like it hot: How Amy Hedtke went from Scout mom to anarchist Republican and James O’Keefe heroine.

But that was a long way back in Hedtke time, quite a few adventures, a Beto-quantity of livestreams and a spell or two in jail ago.

Hedtke would have liked to have been a delegate to the convention, but Ellis County Republicans denied her that honor, holding her ill-concealed anarchism against her, so, she’s here concentrating on her live-streaming.

After grabbing a cup of coffee – actually two – I went over to tease Hedtke about Cook surviving the censure resolution, in which she provided a significant whereas.

This is Hedtke being arrested after a disagreement with Cook about whether she was within her rights to livestream a hearing of the State Affairs Committee he chaired and she attended out of her interest in abortion abolition.

This landed her in jail, and then in court ,where she fared well in pressing her claim that she was within her rights to livestream at the hearing: 3RD COA DISMISSES AMY HEDTKE: “YOU WON – NOW GET OFF OUR LAWN!”

When I asked what Hedtke made of Cook beating the censure rap, she gave me an “it isn’t over for Cook,” shrug.

“At conventions,” Hedtke said, “you get three bites of the apple.”

Indeed, neither she or I knew that at just about that very moment, the Platform and Resolutions Committee was reversing its position on the Cook censure.

This puzzled me, especially coming from Madden, a veteran former state representative from Richardson.

Madden had spoken against the censures of Cook, who he formerly served with, and of John Cornyn and three North Texas Republican members of Congress.

Why would he have thought better of his opposition to the Cook censure?

During a break in the Platform Committee’s deliberations, I approached Madden and asked what had changed.

“I was hearing back from people in my district, “`Gee, you really need to do that,'” he said, referring to backing the Cook censure. “I said, `OK.'”

Why, I asked, were his folks so exercised about Cook and Madden’s failure to support the censure?

“Because they’ve been exercised about him because that’s basically Ken Paxton’s home district, and the suit,” Madden said. “I didn’t think about that.”

Neither had I, and, oh, yes, of course. How obvious.

Look back at this Chuck Lindell story from July 2016: Ken Paxton: Is his legal trouble motivated by politics?

Facing possible prison time over accusations that he defrauded investors in 2011, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton insists that he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt because he dares to run his powerful agency based on conservative Christian values.

Paxton places most of the blame for his legal troubles on a vendetta by a friend-turned-adversary, with some cutthroat politics in Collin County, where the criminal charges originated, thrown into the mix.

Prosecutor Brian Wice isn’t buying it, calling the assertion “as predictable as it is untrue.

Let’s skip down a few grafs.

Paxton blamed much of his legal problems on a Republican rift between conservatives like him and moderates like those who supported former state Rep. Dan Branch, his GOP primary opponent in the 2014 attorney general’s race. Then he singled out one GOP legislator.

“It’s not a coincidence that the chief witness against me in these charges is a political adversary of mine,” Paxton said in the video.

That witness/adversary is state Rep. Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican who endorsed Branch in 2014 and who the grand jury named as a victim of Paxton’s allegedly fraudulent representation of Servergy. Cook also was known as “Investor 1” in the SEC lawsuit against Paxton.

Cook and Paxton both started in the Texas House in 2003 and became friends, with Paxton living in Cook’s Austin apartment, and later a house Cook purchased in Austin, during their first two legislative sessions.

They also belonged to the same investment club, and Paxton supporters say that Paxton brought Cook, an experienced investor, into several lucrative deals before approaching Cook about investing in Servergy in the summer of 2011.

Cook, who can expect to be called as a witness if the criminal and civil cases against Paxton go to trial, declined to answer questions about his dealings with Paxton, who went on to the Texas Senate in 2013 and became attorney general in 2015.

Those who know Cook say the Servergy deal fractured his friendship with Paxton.

Paxton’s supporters, however, say the friendship had already been strained as Cook established himself as a leading moderate and Paxton as a conservative — culminating in Paxton’s unsuccessful bid to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus, a Cook ally, in 2011.

Paxton supporters question why Cook waited four years to air his grievances about the Servergy deal, suggesting it was payback by GOP moderates who strove to marginalize Paxton in the Legislature — particularly after he challenged Straus — and were unhappy he became attorney general over Branch.

Wice disagrees, saying the Texas Rangers began by investigating whether Paxton broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board — a third-degree felony for which he was later indicted. Allegations of fraud were uncovered later, he said.

“The Rangers followed the evidence wherever it led them,” Wice said. “It eventually led them to Byron Cook, and not the other way around.”

‘I will get to work’

Whatever the genesis, Cook’s allegations play a large role in the criminal and civil cases against Paxton.

For a Paxton partisan, censuring Cook is always a good idea.

Senate District 8 is Ken Paxton’s former seat, and, in all likelihood, his wife, Angela’s future seat.

“Double Paxton,” I said.

“Double Paxton,” Madden said.

More from Madden and his original thinking about the Cook censure.

“Byron. I knew him, I knew him well. He’s not running again. He’s not up. The electorate has spoken. Let it go. That’s what I did the first time (the committee voted on the censure). No big deal.”

But, on reflection, “I’ve got to take care of the people who are here. To me it was not the most important thing going on. And we beat the censure motions they had on the congressman and Sen. Cornyn bad. That was more consequential.”

The Platform and Resolutions Committee, which has a representative from each the state’s 31 Senate Districts, is actually the temporary committee. Today, each Senate district caucus met and selected  who they want to represent them on the permanent Platform and Resolutions Committee, which will meet this afternoon and approve the final version of the platform that will be voted on by the convention on Saturday.

If Madden had not switched sides on the Cook censure, he could have been replaced on the Platform and Resolutions Committee. As it is, he presented his report to the caucus on the work of the committee, and was named its representative on the permanent committee by acclamation.

But, the censure switch wasn’t the only, or even latest change the committee made in the platform last night.

It was Marco Roberts of Houston, a leader of the Log Cabin Republicans serving on the committee, who sought to strike the new language, written by Pastor Stephen Broden (see Cook/Benedict Arnold/Julius and Ethel Rosenberg analogy above.)

Here’s a little about Robert’s GOP bona fides from his Facebook page.

Believer in the fundamental rights of the First Amendment and the right to property.
Secretary/Board Member at Log Cabin Republicans of Texas
President at Log Cabin Republicans of Houston
Precinct Chair 0154 at Republican Party of Texas
Studied Political science at Texas A&M University
Went to American School Foundation
Lives in Houston, Texas
From Mexico City, Mexico
Manages Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, Log Cabin Republicans of Houston and Freedom First Republicans

Roberts:

I reject the idea that anyone is a bigot just because they have a religious view. I don’t support that and I don’t call anybody that because I do understand that people have sincere values in this area. 

The  last two years I’ve been doing everything I can to defend our religious freedom in many different ways. I wrote an Op-Ed Friday in the Houston Chronicle defending the Supreme Court decision …

From the Houston Chronicle:

Same-sex wedding cake ruling shows how we can all just get along

By Susanna Dokupil and Marco Roberts

June 8, 2018

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Monday in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that compelling a baker to create a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding was unconstitutional under the Free Exercise Clause. While religious liberty advocates won a legal victory, both sides — indeed, all Americans, religious or not — won a victory for freedom of conscience and mutual tolerance.

Jack Phillips, the baker, told a same-sex couple that he would sell them any products in his shop. However, he refused to create a cake for their wedding because he would not use his artistic self-expression to participate in a ritual that conflicted with his faith. The couple claimed unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission agreed.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, got seven votes with only Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor dissenting. In other words, all the conservatives and the moderates agreed on the result. The importance of that consensus cannot be overstated.

But what is really going on in this opinion? The majority focuses heavily on a key fact: Members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission expressed open hostility to Phillips and dismissed the validity of his religious views in the process of ruling against him. Meanwhile, the opinion never suggests that Jack Phillips behaved in an impolite or disrespectful manner. Rather, it goes into great detail to explain that the applicable civil rights laws were not clear, and Phillips may reasonably have believed he acted legally.

Motive matters in First Amendment religious liberty cases. Even strikingly similar cases can reach opposite results based on the court’s assessment of a party’s intent to follow or flout the law. In 2005, the court decided two landmark cases involving Ten Commandments displays on the same day. In one, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott successfully argued that a Ten Commandments monument on the Texas state capitol grounds was constitutional because it was presented in the context of other monuments and displays. In the other, Kentucky’s county courthouse displays failed the test of constitutionality because the court found that their intent was to promote religion.

Seven Justices agreed that government-sponsored hostility toward religious beliefs is unacceptable: “[T]he government, if it is to respect the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, cannot impose regulations that are hostile to the religious beliefs of affected citizens, and cannot act in a manner that passes judgment upon or presupposes the illegitimacy of religious beliefs and practices.” A seven-vote majority for this statement is a huge victory for religious liberty.

At the same time, seven Justices agreed with the opinion’s closing words: “[T]hese disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.” The Court absolutely refused to make a sweeping ruling that either side is always right. Rather like parents settling disputes between children, the majority seems inclined to consider not only who has rights, but also who has played well with others.

Roberts, on Broden’s amendment.

I can live with what you wrote here if you take out that one sentence.

Rolando Garcia from SD 15 in Harris County offered words of support for Roberts’ effort to remove the offending sentence.

I think Marco’s amendment acknowledges that all of us are willing to adopt any language that affirms marriage between man and a woman as God-ordained, that affirms we respect people who believe that.

The only question is the attack on homosexuals. That is the language this committee rejected  …. and a few people are determined to put back in.

The real point of contention is that language. It is just not necessary and it does us harm and it does not do anything to advance the protection of traditional marriage.

Broden:

This section is titled, Homosexual Behavior, and the sentence that Marco is attempting to remove is the one sentence that addresses homosexual behavior. The title of the platform is Homosexual Behavior and the one sentence that Marco is recommending that we remove addresses  homosexual behavior.

(Broden repeated himself for emphasis, so I did as well.)

Not in a negative way, in terms of disparaging people. It is addressing why it is and why we’re against it. I don’t see it as strident or caustic or an attack as Rolando has identified it as an attack. It is not an attack.

And I’ll just read it again.

Homosexual behavior, which is part of the title, homosexual behavior is contrary – contrary is not an attack, it’s a statement of an observation or truth – is contrary, it’s contrary to the fundamental truth that has been ordained by God in the Bible.

I don’t see that as an attack. 

I believe it’s addressing the title of the platform, which was Homosexual Behavior. What it is and what do we say about it. If we remove that, nothing is said about homosexual behavior, nothing at all.

And I would say to this committee, if it’s saying nothing about it, then why is it titled Homosexual Behavior?

Robert’s motion to delete the sentence was defeated on a voice vote.

Committee chair Mark Ramsey: I will remind members, we have probably spent an hour today on just this one plank.

The came the debate on Broden’s complete amendment with the sentence intact.

William Lan Lutz, a member of the committee from Austin:

The words we choose on this issue matter, especially to younger people.

I believe in the traditional values that are found in the Holy Bible, and that is a book that is filled with love from Genesis 1, Chapter 1 to the end of Revelation.

Love is all throughout the Bible.

And so the question is how do we impart biblical truths beginning with Genesis and say that we believe but do it in a way – and I think Pastor Broden and others on this committee are trying to figure out and are struggling because it’s hard, it’s not easy, to strike the right balance between affirming that we believe in God’s biblical truths while at the same time respecting people as human beings.

It’s the old, criticize the sin but love the sinner. 

So how do we come up with a message that we as Republicans love people?

Roberts said that Republican condemnation of homosexuality was increasingly on the wrong side of an issue politically, especially with younger voters.

In every state on these issues for the last two or three years, every time you’ve lost.

I have succeeded in getting the Young Republicans, the Log Cabin Republicans to agree on religious freedom. How? By advocating the idea that everyone is entitled to the same religious freedom as everyone else. 

What I hear Pastor Broden is, “I don’t see it this way. I don’t see it this way.”

Well I get that, but what about other people?

So what I am asking for is a plank that while still affirming all the things you want, still takes into consideration the rest of us in the party that you may not hear from sometimes.

I am not asking you to deny anything. I am just asking you to affirm what you think is good and then leave it at that. You don’t have to single out what you don’t like about some of us.

I just ask, you know, Roger Williams said 400 year ago, a Christian evangelist who started this small idea about freedom of the church, he said, “To compel worship stinks in the nostrils of God.”

And so what I ask for you guys is to think about that and start affirming what you want and stop with the condemnation.

Allison Winter from SD 4 spoke in favor the plank.

I’m speaking in favor of this. It has the language of God in here, which was taken out of the other one.

The Republican Party, the majority of us, do have faith in God and want that to be in there.

This speaks of what we’re for, marriage between a man and a woman, a biological man and a biological woman, these are two important words.

The other thing is that even as we say what we are for we have to say what we are opposed to also, and that is really important to take stand.

We should not be afraid to take a stand for what is in our hearts.

Broden:

I hear Marco, I want that to be understood. I hear Marco and I hear the passion of what he is saying. 

And I hear (William Lan Lutz.)

And the implication of both of them is that this is negative, that it is an attack.

And I think they are saying that, and I’m not sure, is because of the word, “homosexual.”

Certainly the sentence is not an attack, it’s a  statement: “Homosexual behavior is contrary to…”

That’s not an attack, that’s a statement or an observation. You can agree with it or not. I understand that. But it is not an attack.

If it’s about the word, the plank itself, the title of the plank has the word.

And if you’re suggesting that the word is an attack, then it seems to me that you are having a problem with the plank and the label of the plank, and in Marco’s presentation the word “homosexual” shows up, in his words, so if you are having a problem with the word, why are we having a problem or not having a problem with the word being in Marco’s presentation of the plank, Homosexual Behavior?

I’d like to call the question, because we can a debate on this forever.

Ramsey: We do get another crack at this tomorrow afternoon for those who do choose to come back.

We have 21 for, do we need to take the negative?

Hearing no objection, the amendment passes by a vote of 21 for.

 

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