Joe Basel: They wanna make me a criminal

Good day Austin:

I sat with Joe Basel last night in the House Gallery as the Texas House voted to render his behavior a violation of state law.

He had a front-row seat he had occupied for some seven hours waiting for his “moment of truth.”

From the Statesman’s Tim Eaton.

The hours-long debate over an ethics reform bill in the Texas House on Tuesday offered another chance to see the deep divisions among legislators.

Senate Bill 19, which was tentatively approved 96-48, provided the opportunity for the House’s most conservative members to bicker with Democrats and mainstream Republicans over financial disclosure, drug testing of political candidates and how to deal with the band of operatives who have been collecting video of lawmakers and lobbyists.


Cook also added a provision aimed at the American Phoenix Foundation — which claims to have collected 800 hours of footage of lawmakers and lobbyists behaving badly. Cook’s version of SB 19 now has a provision that says members of the Legislature or the lieutenant governor cannot be recorded at the Capitol without their consent.

“This is a dark and evil force that is upon us now,” Cook said.

Joe Basel, CEO of the foundation, and some of his employees watched the debate from the House gallery and snickered when lawmakers argued about the provision to outlaw taping in the Capitol without consent.


 “If they’re going to vote to make me a criminal, I want to see the vote,” said Basel, who had claimed his front-row seat in the gallery at noon and was still there when the House debated his behavior that evening.

(note: I have been advised since originally posting First Reading that the measure approved last night does not create a criminal offense, but rather a civil cause of action against that conduct, so perhaps it is an overstatement – though perhaps within the bounds of poetic-legal license – for Basel to say the House had voted to “make me a criminal.”)

“Suddenly, after all these years,”  Cook told his colleagues, “this Legislature suddenly has people running around chasing people. The worst part is we don’t know who’s funding them.”

Cook’s version of the ethics legislation would require that anyone recording a conversation with a legislator, either in the Capitol or in the legislator’s district office, have the permission of all the parties to the conversation. Basel’s crew have been taping surreptitiously.

Also, as Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, noted, in backing an amendment by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, to strip that language from the bill, it would retroactively censor the recordings that American Phoenix has made in violation of the new restriction by prohibiting the publication of tapes after the effective date of the bill even if the tapes were made before the bill was enacted.

“It’s Orwellian stuff,” Schaefer told me later.


From Basel:

They’re making me a criminal and I’ll win the constitutional suit and I probably won’t even have to hire a lawyer.

Every piece of media footage that’s ever been released of the Legislature, you guys are subject to lawsuit and jail from now on, unless you have everyone signed on. It’s kind of fascinating that the media is cheerleading this on

It’s not going to survive any constitutional challenge and I think it’s important that they know that l’ll just release their footage first and if they want to arrest me they can arrest me, I’m not going to slow down.

I’m fine. I’m still going to do what I was going to do. I’m still going to release all the footage as appropriate after legal review and vetting. If they want to make me a criminal that’s fine, I’ll turn myself in and raise a lot more money from jail.


There’s kind of  an understanding, a respectful relationship between the press (and legislators),  but I think that misses a lot. I think you guys have to do what you  and have to do to have the access.

But we look at this differently. We think legislators and lobbyists should be wearing body cams and we’d all be better for it, including the media, because the footage we have very clearly shows the system is broken, that it’s stacked against the individual, it’s stacked against an open and free media and we’re going to show that.

Basel said most of their video was done beyond the reach of the new measure, even if it became law.

The majority of our footage is outside this building.

Basel said he doubts Cook’s language will survive a conference committee with the Senate.

It’s my understanding that the Senate would never vote for this bad, this unconstitutional a bill. I would be surprised if the Texas Senate or the governor was willing to support something this blatantly  unconstitutional.

 I think I was encouraged  by the (Shaefer) amendment just now. The language is still in there, but there are a lot of people who think they have selfish reasons to make us criminals right now and stop the release of the footage that still voted to constitutionally uphold our rights.

Here was the vote on Schaefer’s amendment:

Bill: SB 19 – 2nd Reading Amendment 20 by Schaefer
Disclaimer:This vote has not been certified by the House Journal Clerk. It is provided for informational purposes only. Once the vote is certified, it will be recorded in the journal according to Rule 5 of the House Rules and made available on this web site.
RV# 1539 — Unofficial Totals: 66 Yeas, 74 Nays, 3 Present, not voting

 Yeas – Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Ashby; Bell; Bohac; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Canales; Craddick; Crownover; Cyrier; Dale; Davis, S.; Fallon; Fletcher; Flynn; Frank; Goldman; Gonzales; Guillen; Gutierrez; Huberty; Hughes; Keough; King, P.; King, S.; Klick; Koop; Krause; Landgraf; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miles; Murphy; Murr; Paddie; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Price; Rinaldi; Rodriguez, E.; Sanford; Schaefer; Schofield; Shaheen; Simmons; Simpson; Smithee; Spitzer; Springer; Stickland; Thompson, E.; Tinderholt; Turner, E.S.; VanDeaver; White, J.; White, M.; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas

Nays – Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Aycock; Bernal; Blanco; Bonnen, D.; Button; Clardy; Coleman; Collier; Cook; Darby; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Elkins; Faircloth; Farias; Farrar; Frullo; Galindo; Geren; Giddings; González; Guerra; Harless; Hernandez; Herrero; Howard; Hunter; Isaac; Israel; Johnson; Kacal; King, K.; King, T.; Kuempel; Longoria; Lucio; Márquez; Martinez; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Miller, D.; Miller, R.; Minjarez; Moody; Muñoz; Naishtat; Nevárez; Oliveira; Otto; Phillips; Pickett; Raney; Raymond; Reynolds; Riddle; Rodriguez, J.; Romero; Rose; Schubert; Sheffield; Smith; Thompson, S.; Turner, C.; Villalba; Vo; Walle; Workman; Wu

Present, not voting – Mr. Speaker; Sheets(C); Turner, S.

Absent – Burkett; Capriglione; Farney; Keffer; Morrison; Peña; Stephenson

Republicans were split on Schaefer – Greg Bonnen for, Dennis Bonnen against. A couple of Democrats voted “aye.”

“I don’t like what’s happened any more than anybody else, I don’t like it at all,” Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said during the debate. But he felt Cook’s language was an overreach, and not the way to deal with it.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, also voted for Schaefer’s amendment, explaining later:

There’s cameras everywhere. There’s cameras around every corner. If they want to drug test me then drug test me. I don’t have anything to hide from anybody. 

You know, you join this circus at your own peri  if you think you’re going to be able to hide and people are not going to be able to follow you. What’s the difference. While you’re in  session you’ve got a paparazzi, and when you’re not , you’ve got your own press that will beat you up back home.

If they want to waste their team filming me on the couch watching Ancient Aliens, they can come share a burger with me.

But, Cook said later last night:

The public needs to be aware of what’s going on here. This is really bad behavior. I hope this doesn’t become the norm. Why would anyone want to come here and put up with this. It never happened before.

He gestured up toward the gallery where long lenses have been trained down on them for weeks.

They’re shooting us over and over and over again. It’s  a sad business to be honest with you.

Half of the fun, half the object is to see if you can get to your office without somebody harassing you.

Does his remedy go too far?

Once again, It shouldn’t even be necessary should it.

You’ve got to send a message. You’ve got to send a message or then it’s going to be the norm.

And if you think about it, if every single member was facing this then, let me tell you, every one of them would be indignant about it. But because some of them are in on the game, it’s not a big deal to them. If they had to put up with it every single day, if the Senate had to put up with it every single day ….

Joe Basel in the House Gallery. That's Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who defended the right to surreptitiously tape legislators, on the floor.
Joe Basel in the House Gallery. That’s Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, who defended the right to surreptitiously tape legislators, on the floor.

Basel said he understands the sense of discomfort..

We know full well. We’ve had reporters at our private homes in the last couple of weeks because of this story, so we know full well that there’s a line there that’s uncomfortable.

 This happened after my wife’s ACORN project. (Basel’s wife, Hannah Giles, did the ACORN sting with James O’Keefe). This happened after what happened with me in New Orleans. (Basel was arrested, along with O’Keefe and two others in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office, during  another operation.) We became the story.

But, he said, this is only the beginning, in Texas and elsewhere.

We’re not going to stop  We’re going to do this on a permanent basis and we’re going to do it better, harder, more prolific. This is the new normal  for the Texas Legislature and a lot of legislatures around the country that we’re going to be starting (taping in).

Basel said the original idea was to target Congress.

I think Erica Grieder from Texas Monthly and maybe Brandon (Darby of Breitbart Texas) had heard me spitballing the idea. We had  been talking about doing this federally for the longest time. And now, after this success, we’re going to be taking it  to every Statehouse in the country, and federally.


If you look at all the journalistic awards for the last 100 years, this has obviously been done. Journalists who chose more politically correct targets to do hidden video will be getting major journalist awards this year.

Basel denies a political agenda.

I think it’s all fake perceived  dichotomies. Its right vs. left, Republican-Democrat. 

We didn’t let ourselves fall for those dichotomies.

This was a dragnet. This was every single member and every single lobbyist.

This had nothing to do with an agenda. We have no agenda.

We’re not asking for any bills. I guess technically we’re asking not to be made criminals this afternoon, but besides that, there’s nothing that we’re asking for. We’re asking for transparency, we’re asking for sunlight.

And until every lobbyist  and every lawmaker wears a body camera, we’ll wear it for them.

But what about some of the big donors whose names have been revealed?

From Tim Eaton:

At least three donors to the group that has been collecting video — sometimes secretly — of Texas legislators and lobbyists are tied together by a couple of common threads: connections to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and a dream to see House Speaker Joe Straus removed from his post.

A foundation headed by prominent conservative donor Jeff Sandefer gave the American Phoenix Foundation $100,000 in 2011 and 2013. Sandefer, a former oilman, is a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and gave $100,000 last year to state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who unsuccessfully challenged Straus for the speaker job at the beginning of the session.

Last night, Basel said of Sandefer:

He’s an old donor. We’re fighting. We’re not friends right now. That (contribution) was from years ago, many years ago. He hasn’t donated for years. He had nothing to do with any of this (the filming) and he hasn’t donated in years.

We made it very clear to our donors that we don’t do directed donations; they’re giving to the mission statement.

I’m sure some of our donors, like Jeff, will be pissed off about some of his friends getting  hurt in this dragnet, but I think the dragnet’s healthier– a full dose of sunshine is healthier than me getting a few more donors.


I don’t want people who are afraid of little fascists like Byron Cook giving to it.

I want people who believe in freedom of the press, people who believe in the First Amendment and believe that the investigative budgets have been cut at all the  corporate media, all the legacy media and somebody needs to do this work, and I think there are lots of people who  are ready for that and if we can take up that mantle and help revolutionize journalism …

Wrong, said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, during the debate on Schaefer’s amendment.

These aren’t people concerned with the public interest, she said, “they are paid guns for hire.”

Wrong, said lobbyist Steven Bresnen, who has tangled with the American Phoenix operatives.

“There’s nothing grassroots about these people,” Bresnen told me last night. Rather, he said, they are the creatures of a “handful of rich guys dabbling in politics.”

The punks that are doing this claim to be employed by “the people.” You ask them who they work for and they say, “the people.” That’s bullshit. It’s a lie and I fully intend to show it’s a lie. They work for a handful of rich guys who want to be oligarchs.


Basel had mentioned Bresnen to me.

I think some people are acting a lot more guilty than others. Steve Bresnen, for one, is acting really, really guilty for no reason I think.

Just after I left Basel last night, Bresnen took my place visiting with him in the House Gallery, albeit briefly.

From Scott Braddock at Quorum Report: American Phoenix Foundation faces legal action if it will not produce tax records; Longtime lobbyist Steve Bresnen confronts the head of the group, Joe Basel, with legal documents in the House Gallery

The group that claims to have done hundreds of hours of covert surveillance on Texas lawmakers will need to cough up its tax records or they’ll be hauled into court, its president was told on Tuesday evening.

Steve Bresnen, a longtime lobbyist and former aide to Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, confronted American Phoenix Foundation CEO Joe Basel with a written demand that the group disclose its 990’s.

In the letter presented to Basel, Bresnen reminds him that “Federal law makes the federal tax returns of The American Phoenix Foundation, Inc. a matter of public record” because of its status as a nonprofit.

“If I have not been supplied with the requested information before 5 p.m. on June 5th, I will initiate an action in the appropriate court for a judicial order that such information be supplied at once, along with attorneys fees and court costs,” Bresnen wrote.

“In addition, I will request the appropriate prosecuting attorney with Travis County investigate and take appropriate action,” he said.

Basel told Quorum Report “it’s a joke.”

Basel told me the 990s would be posted on the American Phoenix website soon, maybe this weekend.

While Basel has given Breitbart a copy of all its footage, the Texas Tribune’s Terry Langford reported:

Undercover video of Texas lawmakers made by the American Phoenix Foundation will not be published by Breitbart Texas after the legislative session ends, according to the conservative news organization’s managing director, Brandon Darby. 

“At this time, I am not publishing it, correct,” Darby told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday. 

Darby did not elaborate on why he has changed his mind about the supposed 836 hours of video the American Phoenix group has been made of lawmakers since the group began filming in and around the Texas Capitol last December.

Two weeks ago, Darby told the Tribune that Breitbart had a copy of the video footage and had planned to publish it after the legislative session ends on June 1. 

Said Basel:

Breitbart has a copy of the entire archive for safety reason. That’s an older relationship because of the ACORN stuff.

We have dozens of national media partners. We have so much content we’d like to work with local papers, local TV, based on that sate rep (in the particular video)/

We’ll be working with probably dozens of media outlets and making sure they have enough context to meet their journalistic standards.

Basel said there was never any intention to release anything during the session.

We don’t want to interrupt session. We were never going to say anything during session.

I haven’t seen seen the majority of the footage. It will be released over the next twelve months, starting here in a month probably. It will probably take at lest 12 months to go through all this, and there are separate stories.

(For example), the idea that it’s OK for a lobbyist with a bill before a member’s committee to have a romantic or physical relationship with a person, that’s a separate debate.

One of the other issues with some of our investigations is these abusive, sexually and otherwise, abusive relationships that legislators have with their staff. That’s’ an important conversation we’re having in this country, is are they abusing their positions of power?

I said that I wasn’t sure there was a public appetite for videos of legislators having sex.

Hopefully I don’t have any footage of them having sex, but we certainly have footage proving that they are having inappropriate sexual relationships.

If a legislator is taking one of his staffers into a bathroom and locking the door, they shouldn’t be doing that. It’s inappropriate. Well follow-up and ask the staffer and we’ll ask the lobbyists and ask the legislators what they think those videos mean.

 I told Basel that this kind of video suggests that he has people working undercover on members’ staffs.

“We would let you believe that suggestion,” he said.

Several female legislators, including Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, said they felt like they were being stalked by Basel’s operatives, and found it intimidating and inappropriate.

Of the stalking charge, Basel, speaking generally (I did not specifically ask him about Davis), said:

That’s bullshit and they know it and that’s my official position – its bullshit and they know it.

They need to be careful. I realize that these legislators and some of these lobbyists lie for a living ,but lying to the cops, filing a false report, is a crime.

 What fascinates me is we’re the only real feminists  in this whole operation, treating females the same as everyone else. And what’s interesting to me is that we’re the only ones giving people equal treatment.

As I talked to Basel, the House was debating another provision in Cook’s version of the ethics bill.

As Tim Eaton described it:

— A so-called dark money requirement that would make 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations publicly report contributors’ names if the money is being used for campaign purposes. Empower Texans — led by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, a frequent critic of House Speaker Joe Straus — and its lawyers have staunchly opposed such legislation.

 Rep. Rachel Anchia, D-Dallas, was discoursing on a 1958 Supreme Court decision often cited by defenders of “dark money.”

Here from a TribTalk last year on the subject, Joe Nixon, general counsel for Empower Texans:

Fifty years ago, the state of Alabama wanted to prevent the NAACP from helping citizens to vote. Alabama attempted to force the NAACP to produce its membership lists, thereby making donors subject to intimidation or retribution. The NAACP resisted and the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the rights of speech, assembly and petition, and protected the efforts of the NAACP in Alabama to inform and engage citizens.

But, Chase Untermeyer, a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, replied:

Advocates for groups that may now have to make such disclosures claim that this will chill free speech. They point to a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court case called NAACP v. Alabama that they say protects their donors from harassment by letting them keep their names secret. But it’s ludicrous to compare those who are among the most influential forces in modern Texas politics to the small and truly endangered Alabama NAACP of the 1950s.

 That was Anchia’s point in taking the mic. He told me:

It was to differentiate what they’re doing from what the NAACP was doing. You can distinguish between people who are scared of the Klan from people who are hiding corporate money. They’re definitely distinguishable.

Basel agreed that the two situations were distinguishable. But the principle remained, he said.

We’re following the law. Our donors are following the law, If we said in the future, just like the Tribune publishes donors’ names,if you give us  a check, nothing will change. They would still donate and we would still release the videos.

But, he said:

Inasmuch as people have been harassed, I agree with the ruling of the NAACP case that it is undue harassment and it’s a violation of our donor’s constitutional rights.

If they identified their donors, Basel said:

I have no doubt that reporters would have been at their homes, harassing them, scaring their families. If someone gave us a larger check this body would seek to criminalize or hurt that individual, so that NAACP ruling is right.

None of our donors would compare themselves to that kind of persecution, but the point stands. In this country you have a right to assemble, you have a right to speech, hopefully that’s always the case.


 We went above and beyond, our journalists are very well-trained in their rights, in other’s rights, in legislators’ rights. We went above and beyond to make sure there no gray areas in the law, and now they have to pass a law retroactively to try to make us criminals. That’s them admitting we didn’t break any laws and there is nothing they can do.

Basel smiles a lot. His operatives don’t. They are a grim bunch. A few of them were manning the exit to the House floor during the debate yesterday, catching lawmakers on their way out with questions about ethics.

I told Basel that they don’t seem to know when to quit. I’ve seen them late on a Friday – before the recent crush – when there was hardly anyone left in the building. I told one it was time to knock off work, go home, nothing left to see here. He ignored me.





“They’re definitely going to get sick,” Basel said. “They’re working too hard.

























Anchia —  It was to differentiate what they’re doing from what the NAACP was doing  You can distinguish between people who are scared of the Klan from people who are hiding corporate money they’re definitely distinguishable.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland releases investigator’s tape of interview with Rep. Joe Pickett

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland has released portions of an audio recording of a police interrogation of his nemesis state Rep. Joe Pickett.

Pickett, the El Paso Democrat and Transportation Committee chairman who unceremoniously tossed Stickland from a hearing last month, admitted to an investigator from the Texas Rangers on May 14 that knew one of his staffers had called Stickland’s office on April 30, according to the recording.

JPRep. Joe Pickett

Pickett’s staffer, who used a fake name, called Stickland’s Capitol office before the Bedford Republican got thrown out of the Transportation Committee hearing for — as Pickett charged — improperly or illegally filling out committee forms in favor his House Bill 142, a proposal to ban red light cameras.

A story about the recording of the call was published here last week.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Friday April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland in the House Chamber at the Capitol. (Photo by Jay Janner)

In the newly released audio, Pickett seemed to indicate that he was willing to use the recording as reasoning for ordering his staffer to investigate if Stickland was responsible for filling out witness forms in favor of his bill for people not in Austin — a charge, he said in committee, might amount to perjury.

Chuck as Walker, Texas Ranger
Chuck Norris as Walker, (fictional) Texas Ranger

“When (the staffer) played that for me, I didn’t get, ‘Oh, we got him.’ I just said, ‘That’s not enough,’” Pickett told the Ranger. “But it was enough for me to go and immediately tell (the staffer) to go sample some of the witnesses.”

Pickett said on the day of the hearing that possibly dozens of witness affirmation forms were being filled out for the hearing, which was on hold as House members met on the floor. And the number of forms didn’t reflect the number of people waiting to testify, he said.

“I had feeling that someone was manipulating our system,” Pickett said.

At that point. Pickett said that he “just did some checking.”

Stickland, too, said he did nothing wrong that spring day.

“I did not fill anything out. I did not tell anyone to fill anything out, and I had absolutely no knowledge of anyone filling anything out,” Stickland told the Statesman on Monday.

Further, he said he has not been told which rule or law was broken.

Stickland said the investigator gave his lawyer a copy of the interrogation.

Asked why the investigator handed over the recording, Stickland said: “We do not know.”

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety was not immediately available, but as a matter of course, department doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.

Stickland said he released the audio to help him get answers to some key questions, such as: Was the lead-up to the investigation a set-up to punish the tea party agitator? And who knew about it?

Pickett insisted Monday that his actions were reasonable.

“I didn’t set up anybody,” he said.

Since the incident, state Rep. John Kuempel, a Republican from Seguin and chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, has launched an investigation with the help of the Rangers.

The investigation has focused on the process of how committees’ electronic witness documents — like the ones Stickland or his staff was accused of filling out — are being used and potentially abused.

No individual members are being targeted, Kuempel said previously.

Earlier on April 30, Stickland and Pickett had a heated exchange on the House floor, when Stickland used a parliamentary maneuver to kill Pickett’s House Bill 2346.

Hear the excepts of the Ranger’s interview with Pickett.

The Strangest of Bedfellows: On Celia Israel and the Pastor Protection Act

Good day Austin:

Toward the end of Friday’s very long Senate debate on open carry, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who opposes open carry, lent his support, out of concern about the potential for racial profiling by police, to an amendment by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, that would prohibit police from stopping someone simply because they were openly carrying a handgun to see if that person was properly licensed.

“I’ve heard of strange political bedfellows,” Ellis said on the Senate floor. “This has been the strangest bed I’ve ever slept in.”

OK. But a day earlier, across the Rotunda in the House, there was the bed that Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, found herself in with Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and his Pastor Protection Act.



From Chuck Lindell in the Statesman: Marriage bill OK’d as Democrats drop opposition

With Democrats dropping their opposition, a bill to protect religious objections to gay marriage sailed through the Texas House on Thursday, gaining initial approval on a 141-2 vote.

Final House approval is expected Friday, sending the bill to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he will enthusiastically sign it into law.

Named the Pastor Protection Act by supporters, Senate Bill 2065 would shield clergy and houses of worship from lawsuits if they refuse to marry a same-sex couple based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, said the measure would make no change to the state’s marriage laws beyond stating that pastors cannot be forced to perform a wedding ceremony that violates their beliefs.

“This bill is a shield and not a sword,” Sanford told the House. “It makes it clear that government cannot use civil or criminal actions as punishment” for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

Democrats said the U.S. Constitution already protects pastors who make religious-based choices on who they will or will not marry. After closely questioning Sanford to establish that SB 2065 would apply only to clergy acting in their religious capacity, Democrats dropped objections to the bill, with only Reps. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Armando Walle, D-Houston, voting against it.

(note: the next day Canales and Walle would vote for final passage, though Canales later corrected the record to indicate that he intended to remain a “no” vote.)

SB 2065 left the Senate last week on a 20-9 vote that was split largely along party lines.

Rep. Celia Israel, an openly lesbian Democrat from Austin, urged House members to vote for the bill, saying it merely reflects First Amendment protections for religious practice.

Israel also assured pastors who oppose gay weddings that they don’t need to be concerned if the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the right to same-sex marriage in a ruling expected this summer.

“Some fine day, my partner and I are going to be able to get married in the great state of Texas,” she said. “When that day comes, rest assured to those pastors and preachers who take a more literal interpretation of the Bible, my partner and I of 20 years will not be going to them to bless our union. I will be going to someone who loves and respects us for who we are.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.03 AM

I talked with Israel Saturday, and she explained what led her to climb into that bed.

 Well, there’s people around me that I trust. Glen Maxey advised me – “What if we turned the whole board green. And let’s just agree. We all agree on freedom of religion.”

So Glen and I have been friends ever since the Ann Richards campaign. He was heading up the Travis County get-out-the-vote organization, and I was working on the statewide field organization. So we have known each other a long time and have been through a lot of battles together. You learn over time when to pick your battles, and I think this was a way to show, we are also people of faith.

Maxey, who served in the House from 1991 to 2003, was the first openly gay member of the Texas Legislature. I ran into him at the Capitol after Thursday’s vote.

When a bill like this comes along it is very important for the LGBT community to see our leaders very clearly explain that this is not a knee-jerk kind of issue, that there should be no conflict between organized religion and the LGBT community on this kind of constitutional issue.

The fact that this bill restated the constitutional principle – while we all know it was done for sort of a different kind of motive – the way to take the energy out of that was to simply say we agree. And as you, saw the air went out of the balloon.

After Thursday’s vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, recalled for me that Maxey had pulled off a similar maneuver some yeas ago. I asked Maxey about that.

There was a bill by (Rep.) Elliott Naishtat that said that the state of Texas would recognize protective orders from other states for domestic violence and (Rep.) Warren Chisum did an amendment to say – “unless the protective order was for two men or two women who had a marriage in another state, and that we would not recognize their protective rights. The whole point of that was to get a record vote (to be used against members in the next campaign). And a lot of people got really pissed off – we still had a lot of rural Democrats then, who said, “This is just for the record vote.”

And so when it happened, I went to the back mic and said, “Let’s all vote for it, everybody vote aye on this anti-gay amendment because then they will have no record to use against you. And the whole House stood up, a green board, and he pulled down the amendment, and it took the air out of it.

(note: Chisum also authored the same-sex marriage ban state voters overwhelmingly approved as a constitutional amendment in 2005.)

Here was the 1997 report on Maxey’s strategy from Ken Herman and Suzanne Gamboa

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and sponsor of the gay marriage bill, tried one more time Tuesday night to bring up the issue but got snookered by the House’s only openly gay member, Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin.

Chisum sought to get colleagues to make a political statement against gay marriages by barring Texas from recognizing protective orders issued in same-sex marriages from other states. He acknowledged the amendment would probably be stripped in a House-Senate conference committee.

“I think everything we do here is a political statement,” Chisum said in acknowledging his motive, “and certainly this will make a political statement. There are members here would like to make their record on this issue.”

Then, in one of the session’s slicker maneuvers, Maxey urged the House to make the vote a hollow one.

“I’m asking all of my colleagues in this House to vote yes on this amendment and deny Mr. Chisum the political record he wants,” said Maxey, drawing applause and hugs from colleagues.

The vote never occurred.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.49.21 AM

Back to Israel:

I didn’t know what I as going to say until I went up to the mic. My staff asked, “Did you write that out?” I said, “No, it just came from the heart.”

I’ve gotten a lot of good comments from both sides of the aisle. My colleagues either secretly agree with gay marriage and didn’t want have to sign onto this bill, or they really did believe in the intent of the bill and respect the way in which I presented it. I’ve always found that when you’re coming from a good place and you’re speaking from the heart, that’s all you really can do.

I wanted to say, “On a day that’s supposed to be as special as our marriage, why would I go to somebody who doesn’t agree with who I am, the essence of who I am?” I’m a 50-year-old woman, I don’t need fixin’, I’m not going to get converted, nor am I going to go to somebody who disagrees with me to say, `Hey, would you mind holding a wedding for us?'”

Why would I go to someone who is diametrically opposed to who I am? 

So I felt like that needed to be said from the podium, and the fact that I happened to be gay turned out to be a good way to make the point.

As the vote approached:

I had a lot of conversations with my colleagues on the floor. I said, “I’m thinking of voting for it.” And they said, “Really?” And they said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “I’m not sure but I think I am going to vote for it.” I was just kind of kicking through it in my mind and as it approached, I was telling people, “Yeah, I’m going to vote for it.”

And that’s when they gave me the look, “Are you sure?:

There’s a certain amount of my colleagues who are protective of me. They are in the Democratic Party – unfortunately there’s not enough members of the Republican Party who can do this – but several of my colleagues who are protective of me and want to know, “Are you OK. Are you doing OK?” And I’ll say, “I’m OK,” and they’ll say, “Are you really OK?,” because they want to know that I’m being treated just like any other member. So they wanted to say, “You sure you’re going to vote yes?” And then, “OK, if you’re going to vote yes we’re with you.”

She wasn’t able to let all of her Democratic colleagues know what she was going to do before she did it, including her desk mate, ideological soul mate and fellow Austinite, Rep. Donna Howard.

Not even my desk mate knew. She was very happy for me. Afterward, she said it was a good move.

I did talk to Rafael Anchia because he’s a very vocal supporter of LGBT rights, and he had told me he was going to say a few words, and I said, “Let me bounce this off you.” He said, “I think that’s great.” He reassured me that I was headed in right direction.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.31 AM

I talked to Anchia Saturday about Israel’s move, and about his own remarks during the debate on the Pastor Protection Act. He said:

Where you sit is where you stand.

I said gay people get married in the district I represent every day. The district I represent includes the biggest LGBT church in the country – the Cathedral of Hope – and I’ve had the pastor from the Cathedral of Hope – he was my pastor of the day here. I worship there. When my mom comes in for Easter we take her there, the kids and the whole thing.

I don’t ever want there to occur a situation where one of the pastors is ostracized from an order for marrying gay people.

One of the leaders of Dallas theology married a couple of gay people but did so in a way that the order wouldn’t come down on him, but it sent up all kinds of red flags in Dallas.

From Dianne Solis in the Dallas Morning News, in February 2014:

After 53 years, Jack Evans will finally get hitched to his life partner George Harris on Saturday, believed to be the first public same-sex wedding in Dallas officiated by a United Methodist minister.

The union has qualified religious acceptance. There’s open debate in the United Methodist Church, which officially views homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

But the well-known minister celebrating the wedding — the 85-year-old Rev. Bill McElvaney — says “love over law” matters most.

“The Methodist church is on the wrong side of the Gospel on this — and history,” McElvaney said.

Anchia’s point – McElvaney could also be the pastor being protected under the Pastor Protection Act.

I  think that deal cuts both ways. I also think the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment already protects this, so it’s kind of unnecessary.

When Celia was talking to me, I said, “Let’s not fall into their trap of being against this, let’s be for it, let’s own it, lets co-opt it” You know what, that whole media cycle was about us co-opting it.

It’s a total Art of War move. They advance and you move back.


The “enemy,” in this case, was, Anchia said, confounded.


They all expected us to speak against it. I had some Republicans come up to me and they were scrumming and huddling over there, saying, “Do I need to vote against this now?”

Having made up her mind to speak in favor of the bill, Israel said:

 I went up to the parliamentarian and said, “I want to say a few words in favor,” and they said, “OK,” and so, whoever I hadn’t talked to on the floor, when I made my comments, that gave them the permission to vote for the Pastor Protection Bill.

The Pastor Protection Bill, she said, was unlike some other legislation ostensibly targeting LGBT rights.

Here, for example, is the description by Equality Texas, an LGBT rights group, of HB 2553, sponsored by Rep. Molly White:

HB 2553 creates a right of refusal for any business to violate local non-discrimination laws if the business owner believes that serving a customer whose marriage the business owner dislikes would violate that business owners religious beliefs.

Goods that are made available to the public should be made available without discrimination based on race, religion, nation of origin, sex, ability, veteran status, sexual orientation, family status or gender identity or expression. Texans value the right of any person to work hard and strive for the American dream. Using religion as a weapon to excuse discrimination flies in the face of Texas values.

As opposed to Sanford’s bill, that kind of bill, Israel said:

… would have been more outlandish and ultimately harmful to Texas’ image, to say bakeshops across the state could discriminate and, you know, just silly language. I think years from now we will look back on this time and say, “Why were we arguing about this stuff?”

And ultimately in my comments (on the Patient Protection Act), I didn’t mean to simply say, your concerns are not valid. But I did want to say we don’t need to spend a lot of time arguing about this.  We agree with you.

But it gave me an opportunity to give them my perspective from my family’s view and I think that was helpful.

The only other out LGBT member of the Legislature is Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, who is in her second term. Gonzalez, who has identified herself as pan-sexual, had weeks ago arrived at the place Israel ended up, signing up (along with Democrats Sylvester Turner of Houston and René Oliveira of Brownsville) as a co-author of Sanford’s bill.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.51.06 AM

Gonzalez explains her thought process:

I decided early on to support the bill, but I daily struggled with whether to continue to support it.. It was a daily struggle.

One of my main goals as a legislator is to fight discrimination of all forms, and I think one of the main arguments against LGBT justice that the right uses is that we are impeding upon their religion. So, of course, I want to be respectful even if I disagree with some ideas, even if I think some of them are hurtful or hateful. I don’t want to be judgmental.

So processing the bill was difficult, not necessarily in policy ways but in philosophical ways. The policy is a reaffirmation of the First Amendment which is fine. But I knew that some people were pushing this bill not out of care or concern for discrimination against pastors, but more fearful or hurtful of LGBT folks.

I don’t think that was the author’s intent but that was other people’s intent – not necessarily even people in this  building. In thinking about this bill I didn’t want to give credit to the movement that was supporting bigotry and hate.

But as a legislator I think it’s our role to always take a high road, always think complexly about these issues, and so, while I was worried about the political movement, the policy was fine and I think there was a possibility for a statement to come from someone within the LGBT community that there is space for both religious protection and LGBT justice, and if we can work to find that space, we can really work to end discrimination on multiple fronts.

It shows people on the right that here are people on the progressive side who are trying to find a space for everyone to co-exist.

Gonzalez, who arrived in the House with Sanford last session, said that part of her decision-making to sign onto the bill was because Sanford, who asked her to join the bill, was someone she knew and come to trust.

I trusted Scott and knew he would be honest with me about the direction the bill was going. He was a person of integrity. He didn’t take any possibly bad amendments.

She said she shared her thinking with Israel, who was elected to fill the unexpired term of Mark Strama in 2014, and then elected to a full two-year term.

I turned to Celia as someone I trust and love very much and so I kind of just told her my process.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.50.14 AM

Meanwhile, the rights organizations monitoring the bill were moving in the same direction.

From Dan Quinn at Texas Freedom Network:

TFN, Equality Texas and ACLU of Texas had already persuaded the author to revise the bill in committee to ensure that religiously affiliated institutions, such as hospitals, could not discriminate against married same-sex couples.
When the bill came to floor for a vote, we asked Democrats to clarify with the author that the legislative intent of the bill was only to make clear that clergy could not be forced, when acting as clergy and not when working in a civil capacity such as a justice of the peace, to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.
That right is already protected by the Constitution and state law. The Senate author had already made that legislative intent clear during Senate floor debate. If Democrats could get that clarification for legislative intent on the House floor (which they did), we simply encouraged them to vote their conscience.
But Equality Texas also asked Rep. Israel and Rep. Gonzalez if they could find a way to vote for the bill  as a way to show that equality for LGBT families is not in conflict with religious freedom.
Given that the rhetoric from the bill’s supporters has been so vicious and offensive — in some cases even comparing marriage between loving gay and lesbian couples to promoting bestiality and pedophilia — you can see why that might be a tough request to make. But the decision to go to the floor and say what they did about the bill was theirs.
It’s important to understand that the bill’s supporters had spent months arguing that, if the Supreme Court strikes down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, clergy could be forced to marry gay and lesbian couples. That wasn’t true, and the fear-mongering by the bill’s supporters was shameful. I think Democrats did a good job making that clear and also reminding folks that there are plenty of clergy who look forward to presiding over those marriages.

Israel said she and Maxey thought that, better than a board that was a mix of green lights, signifying “aye,” and white lights for “present, not voting,” it would be more powerful to turn the whole board green.

Like Gonzalez, Israel, who is also originally from El Paso (she came to Austin to attend UT), has taken great pains building relationships across party lines for her core legislative issues, which have nothing to do with her sexual identity.

If you’ve seem me on the floor, working the floor, I took very seriously my pledge to work across the aisle. House Bill 76 (for online voter registration) had 76 co-authors. Most of them were Republicans. On the floor, the Bus on Shoulder Bill (allowing buses to ride on the shoulder to reduce congestion) got out of here with 105 votes.

I’m in the minority and I have to work hard, to go one-on-one with my colleague. I have talked to most of the Republicans on the floor, although I’m a new member, about things other than LGBT issues. It’s about  mobility and congestion relief mostly, and on-line voter registration. Those are my big issues. I think they respect that I want their support on issues that are really important to the state of Texas.


They want to put you in a silo – that liberal, LGBT-loving, tree-hugging … It’s like, “No.”

(Mary Gonzalez) was Ag Chick, I’m Transportation Chick, and this is supposed to be the Transportation Session. 

I’ve enjoyed it very much. It is hard work but when you put in your time and you get to know your colleagues on what are big picture issues – I call them Big Rocks – then it only helps you in the end when it’s time to tell your personal story at the front mic.

I didn’t expect I’d be talking about my marriage on the front mic –in the way that I did. 

I’m talking to Glen, “OK, let’s think about this,” then I’m on the floor. 

Being on the floor of the House of Representatives is pretty heady. Here you are in these cathedral-like chambers and not even my staff is allowed on the floor, so you’re in pretty rare space.

I’m just glad I had the presence of mind to allow my head and my heart to speak honestly, and my colleagues have been overwhelmingly supportive of it.


And I felt obliged to talk about my religious upbringing as well. You can’t just take it away from me that I’m a good Catholic girl.

In the age of Pope Francis, I’’m feeling more and more supported by Rome. I do love what the Pope has to say because it’s the Catholic Church of my youth. It was focused on helping and being conscious of the fact of how lucky we are and the responsibility we had to help the less fortunate. That was the church that brought me up through eight years of Catholic school. My mother made sure I went to every Mass on Sunday.

No one should take away religion form any of us or suspect that because they literally read the Bible a certain way that they are closer to God than I am.

Rep. Sanford is executive pastor of the Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen.

Israel said that Sanford saw his act as “defending small-town pastors who don’t have the ability to fend for themselves.”


She said she did not believe the fear was well-founded.

Well how many of us are going to Mesquite to try to get married by an evangelical person who literally thinks I’m going to burn in hell. I really don’t want to be around that person on my special day.

But you know, I don’t think his approach was right, but in the end  I agreed with his bill because it was about reaffirming what’s in the United States Constitution – freedom of religion.

Just the day before we reaffirmed Texans’ right to hunt and fish. Sometimes we do things on the floor that are not critical to the operating of the state of Texas. I recognized that, but I recognize by being in support of something duplicative, I was also helping to make a statement for my family and other families like mine.

Israel didn’t talk to Sanford about her intentions before speaking in support of his bill.

I didn’t want to talk to him before this. Not any animus. I was just getting my head around what’s my role and what’s my voice.

“No, I had no idea,” Sanford said on Thursday “I thought it would be a party-line vote plus a handful of Democratic friends. That was nice. It was nice to see. They all have pastors, they all have churches in their districts. The usually have relationships with those folks, those spiritual leaders in their community, and I think they value those relationships.”

He agreed Israel’s move sucked any venom out of the debate.

“I’m glad for that,” he said.

Israel also didn’t give her partner of 20 years – Celinda Garza – who was out-of-town visiting family – any heads-up before her speech.

No I didn’t. All of this was on the fly.


Since then, she said:

Everybody wants to be invited to the wedding and my partner  – we’ve been together 20 years this July – she said, “Well I’ll marry you but only if we can get married on the floor of the House of Representatives.”Really? Really? It’s going to become a circus.”

Maybe, I said helpfully, that her partner of 20 years is just not ready for commitment and that this thing about wanting the wedding in the House chamber was just a clever stalling tactic.

Maybe that’s it, Israel said.

When you’re a gay person in Texas or just a gay person from a certain generation, we weren’t raised with that dream – “This is going to  be the dress I’m going to wear; these are going to be the people in my court.”

Glen Maxey wanted to be in the wedding that I pronounced  on on Thursday.

She told him:

Well maybe you could be Melinda’s maid of honor, but I don’t think you’ll be on my side.

Reflecting on her speech, she said:

It was a roll of the dice. It could have gone the wrong way. It could have turned into a fight and, luckily, my saying what I said avoided a harmful debate on the floor about a contentious issue that hopefully the Supreme Court is going to take care of  for all of us.


Being a member of the House, Israel said, “is all about relationship building, and I think that ultimately, that we did not have a divisive argument about LGBT issues was a good thing.”

She recalled the debate last month when Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, succeeded in adding an amendment banning abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks to a Department of State Health Services Sunset Bill.

The bill ended up getting pulled down.

“It was divisive, it was ugly, it was hyper-partisan. And that would have happened again if we had allowed a topic like gay marriage to divide us,” Israel said. “There are so many things we need to address. We don’t need to be divided about LGBT issues.”

The Big Daddy of the bills that could have come before the House was HB 4105, authored by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, which sought to bar public funding for, and bar state and local officials from participating in the licensing or recognizing of same-sex marriages in any way, no matter what the Supreme Court does.

Bell’s bill fell victim to Democratic maneuvering without reaching the floor.

From Kiah Collier and Chuck Lindell’s May 14 story in the Statesman:

Employing a wide range of delaying tactics, Texas House Democrats late Thursday killed a bill designed to keep same-sex couples from marrying.

Knowing House bills would die unless given a vote before midnight, Democrats missed few opportunities to minimize progress during a 15-hour floor session — drafting dozens of amendments, raising points of order and asking detailed, sometimes repetitive questions.

The tactics kept the House to a four-bills-an-hour pace through most of the day.

When midnight fell, the go-slow tactics claimed more than 200 bills that had been scheduled for a vote. The victims included the Democrats’ top target: House Bill 4105, which would bar government employees in Texas from issuing a marriage license to gay couples, even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns bans on same-sex marriage in a ruling expected this summer.

The bill’s author, Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, said he was disappointed with the outcome but added that he will begin looking to add HB 4105 as an amendment to another bill — an admittedly difficult feat.

“The whole problem with this process is, it’s designed to kill bills, and in this particular instance, that’s the outcome,” Bell said. “We missed an opportunity tonight, but the session moves on.”

But, if Bell blamed the process for his bill’s demise, Israel, asked if she was glad 4105 never made it to the floor, thanked a higher power:

Thank you Jesus. Good God. Thank you Baby Legislative Jesus.


Live coverage of Texas Senate hearing on abortion legislation

Statesman legislative reporter J. David McSwane will be providing updates via Twitter from a Texas Senate hearing on abortion regulations.

Rep. Jonathan Stickland says he might have proof that he was set up

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland has an audio recording he said could prove that he was set up.

On Friday, Stickland released an audio file from earlier in the session that he said is a recording of a staffer for state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who called Stickland’s Capitol office and used a fake name to prompt behavior that could have been used against the tea party agitator from Bedford.

Hear the audio:

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, wearing a gun lapel pin, smiles during debate of HB 910, an open carry bill, in the House Chamber at the Capitol on Friday April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)
Rep. Jonathan Stickland in the House Chamber at the Capitol on April 17. (Photo by Jay Janner)

In the recording, which could not be verified, a man who said he was from Houston asked Stickland’s legislative director how the man might register his support for House Bill 142, a proposal by Stickland to ban red light cameras.

Stickland said he believes the caller hoped that the conservative Republican’s aide had offered to sign him up in support of the bill without the caller being present, which would be against House policy. The Stickland staffer simply explained the process to the caller, as heard on the recording.

“I was truly very angry to hear this for the first time, but also very sad,” Stickland said. “This crosses a line of decorum and honesty and questions integrity.”

When asked about the recording, Pickett said: “We don’t prompt anything.”

JP(Rep. Joe Pickett)

Stickland said the call appears to have been placed before Pickett, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, angrily tossed Stickland from a late night hearing of the committee on April 30 and accused him of the possible felony of tampering with a government document — by filling out a witness affirmation form in favor of the camera ban bill.

Since the ejection, state Rep. John Kuempel, a Republican from Seguin and chairman of the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee, said his committee would launch an investigation.

The investigation, being conducted by the Texas Rangers of the Department of Public Safety, has focused on the process of how committees’ electronic witness documents — like the ones Stickland or his staff was accused of filling out — are being used and potentially abused.

No individual members are being targeted, Kuempel said previously.

The investigation is ongoing.

Stickland said he believes it was Pickett’s staff on the recording, based on conversations with his lawyer, who has had conversations with DPS.

Earlier on April 30, Stickland and Pickett had a heated exchange on the House floor, when Stickland used a parliamentary maneuver to kill Pickett’s House Bill 2346.

At the time, Pickett seemed to good-naturedly poke fun at Stickland by delivering to him on the floor a large-print copy of the bill’s language, which would give limited powers of arrest to security officials at the Federal Reserve Bank. On the page were two stick figures to help Stickland understand the bill. The drawing depicted an armed Fed security guard, which was labeled “Good Guy,” and a masked bank robber with a “Bad Guy” tag.

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Follow live: Open carry in Texas Senate

Open carry legislation has been brought up for debate in the Texas Senate. Follow our live coverage:

Rep. Sarah Davis tells American Phoenix Foundation to back off

A shaken state Rep. Sarah Davis asked one of the people collecting video of legislators to leave her alone as she walked out of the Texas House chamber on Thursday.

IMG_1426(Jon Basel of the American Phoenix Foundation)

When the Houston Republican left the chamber, she was approached by Jon Basel of the American Phoenix Foundation who tried to ask her questions — probably about late-term abortions, the questioners’ apparent issue du jour.

sarah davis(Rep. Sarah Davis)

But Davis took the opportunity to push back against the group that has been hounding lawmakers in recent weeks in their effort get video (often surreptitiously) to use in a package, which they said, will show hypocrisy and the cozy relationships with lawmakers and lobbyists.

“I need you stay away from me,” Davis told Basel, who had previously been giving a fake name to people at the Capitol. “I am a woman, and you are a man, dressed in black, following me everywhere I go. It is completely inappropriate and, quite frankly, it scares me so please leave me alone.”

See a video here.

Joe Basel, brother of the man in the video and CEO of the Foundation, questioned who made the tape of the encounter and who pays that person. (Incidentally, Joe Basel refused to disclose the funders of his foundation.)

“He asked her a question. Looked like a setup,” Joe Basel wrote in an email. “From watching all of our video feeds and her version, it feels like a lazy setup.”

Top ten list: Will Perry make the cut for the Fox presidential debate?

Good morning Austin:

RickPAC yesterday released its latest video on behalf of the former governor’s incipient presidential bid, which he will formally announce in Dallas on June 4.

It’s called, Our best days are ahead.

Pitched to Iowa voters, Perry says, “For those of us who grew up in these agricultural communities, this is the time of the year that just made you feel good about who you were and what you were doing. This is the time when hope springs eternal.”

Screenshot 2015-05-21 06.23.11

Well, Hope did work pretty well for Obama


And Hope Springs Eternal kind of works as an appropriately upbeat but humble slogan for the candidacy of a man who aspires to b ethe Comeback Kid of 2016.

But no sooner had RickPAC released the new video than the Perry campaign faced an existential threat from a most unlikely source – Fox News.

From The New York Times:

The sprawling field of Republican presidential hopefuls will be abruptly winnowed down to as few as 10 — at least for debating purposes — when the first presidential debate is held in early August, Fox News, the debate sponsor, said Wednesday.

The network’s decision to invite only candidates who hit a certain polling threshold is the first organized attempt to curtail the size of the ballooning field. Presidential debates have proved crucial in recent nominating contests, with little-known candidates propelled to national prominence and experienced candidate thrust out of the race by poor performances.

Party and network officials are seeking to balance a desire to include more candidates against concerns about the debates turning into unwieldy sideshows because of the large number of participants. But the network’s decision is certain to elicit protests from lower-polling candidates who would be excluded.

As of now, there are 18 likely presidential candidates in the Republican contest, and the field could grow even more. By their current standing, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, could be excluded.

Caitlin Huey Burns of Real Clear Politics picks it up here:

CNN announced a two-tier system for its Sept. 16 debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The top 10 candidates will debate in one group, and the remaining candidates will face off in another. Each candidate must poll at 1 percent or higher. CNN requires debate participants to have at least one paid campaign staffer in two of the early voting states and have visited two of those states at least once.

The polling threshold for the Fox debate threatens to cut from the debate stage a handful of candidates, including some who represent the diversity the party would like to showcase as it seeks to broaden its electoral appeal.

While polling will change between now and August, the RealClearPolitics average shows that Carly Fiorina, who announced her campaign earlier this month, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is forming an exploratory committee, would not make the cut. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to announce his campaign next month, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a bid, would also be excluded. These four contenders are all polling at or below 2 percent.

Fox News seemed to recognize the potential controversy of excluding some candidates, pledging to provide additional coverage and airtime on the day of the debate for candidates who do not place in the top 10.

The RCP polling average does not include Donald Trump, who is again flirting with a presidential bid. In some surveys, Trump places high enough to be included on the stage, according to the polling requirements. Still, he would have had to officially establish a campaign, which he has yet to do.

The Republican National Committee supported the decision by Fox to limit the number of candidates. “We support and respect the decision Fox has made, which will match the greatest number of candidates we have ever had on a debate stage,” said Chairman Reince Priebus.

No party has had more than 10 candidates on the debate stage, and GOP officials were concerned about being able to showcase the party’s deep bench without having candidates trip over one another. Priebus and the RNC made a concerted effort to limit the number of debates this year to nine, aiming to avoid the overload of forums last cycle that Republicans thought amounted to a circus.

Here is the latest polling compiled by Real Clear Politics

Real Clear Politics, recent polls and polling average
Real Clear Politics, recent polls and polling average

And, from Jim Geraghty at National Review:

Under the debate participation rules set by Fox News, Gov. Bobby Jindal, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and former New York governor George Pataki would not participate in the first Republican debate. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be on the bubble.

Right now Perry sits at number nine, at around two percent in national polls.

But his situation is especially tenuous because he seems unlikely to be able to pass any of the eight candidates ahead of him in national polls before the debate, which will be held Aug. 6 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, site of the 2016 GOP convention.

And Perry finds himself polling only a fraction of a percent ahead of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  (From Todd Gillman at the Dallas Morning News: “In case of a precise tie in the polling average, there might be more than 10, a Fox official says.”)

But Kasich has yet to be talked much about and could easily experience at least a momentary surge in the polls this summer if he gets in.

And lurking not all that far behind are Perry’s pal, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the mix – all of whom represent a potential threat to Perry’s top-ten status.

From Phillip Bump at the Washington Post:

Now, if you’re John Kasich’s people, you have any number of arguments you can make. After all, you’re only 0.2 percent below Perry in the average, and that’s in a bunch of polls with margins of error north of 3 percent. In fact, you’ve done the same as Perry in every poll except the Quinnipiac one, where Perry got 3 percent to your 2 percent. That’s the entire difference.

If Perry and Kasich had tied, by the way, Fox says it would include both. But what if, say, three candidates tied? Or four? Give Santorum an extra point in a poll or two, and he’s in the mix, for example. Will a candidate accept being excluded due to rounding?

The most serious threat to Perry’s precarious standing would be a candidacy by Donald Trump, who would almost certainly vault ahead of Perry, at least in early polls. That might also trigger an intense period of mourning for the loss of Molly Ivins and what she might have made of the prospect of Gov. Goodhair being undone by the bizarrely-thatched Trump.


 In this March 9, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump arrives at a Comedy Central Roast in New York.
In this March 9, 2011 file photo, Donald Trump arrives at a Comedy Central Roast in New York.

Based on polls that have included Trump, he already bumps Perry to tenth. Writes Bump.

But should we include Donald Trump? His numbers come from appearances in just two polls, both from Fox News. Does doing well in two polls and not existing in three others count? By the time August rolls around, the field may be settled enough that this won’t be as big a deal — but it could be!

Is there any better, alternative way to winnow the field to a manageable number?

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show recently offered his own suggestion:

Let’s do it with a game I call, “Let’s get rid of Ted Cruz.”

Screenshot 2015-05-21 00.22.15

For Perry, the Fox reliance on national polling numbers may require some adjustment of strategy, especially if Kasich and/or Trump get in, or if Fiorina, for example, deploys a strategy to give her a lift in national polls instead of working the ground like Perry in Iowa – an intensive, retail approach that is critical to his slow-build comeback strategy.

It is a strategy that, according to this report Tuesday from Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican, is yielding positive results.

Perry’s approach to Iowa couldn’t be any more different than what it was in 2011 when he first came to the state late in the summer and was widely regarded as an instant frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Everything Perry did was big, and his late start meant that there wasn’t much time to do the little things that build bonds with Iowa Republicans.

Perry now realizes the error of his ways. In a recent interview, Perry admitted that his back surgery meant that he was tired, medicated, and not on the top of his game back in 2012. “People are seeing a completely different individual than they did three-in-a-half years ago when we parachuted into Iowa the day after the Straw Poll,” Perry told in a radio interview on WTAD AM 930 recently. “Frankly, we were not healthy, and we were not prepared. I admit that. I was arrogant thinking that having been the Governor of Texas for 12 years that I was ready to climb any mountain.”

Perry was bitter following his fifth place finish in Iowa. “This is quirky place and a quirky process to say the least,” Perry told the Associated Press of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. “We’re going to go into places where they have actual primaries and there are going to be real Republicans voting.” It would have been easy for Perry to remain cynical about Iowa, but instead, he has embraced Iowa and the type of campaigning that Iowans expect to see from presidential candidates every four years.

Perry has spent the past three years visiting Iowa, in part, to convince Iowa caucus goers that he’s deserving of another chance. While Perry has been well received, he has also been willing to put in a lot of hard work. Perry is in the midst of a four-day, nine-stop swing that covers a large portion of the state. In Holstein, a town of 1,400 in Ida County in Northwest Iowa, Perry drew a crowd of 110 people at the Veterans Memorial Hall for a town hall meeting.

In addition to working hard, Perry’s team has also found ways to help give back while also underscoring his military background and his commitment to the men and women that serve our country. Perry is confirmed to attend Sen. Joni Ernst’s first annual Roast and Ride on June 6th, but he’s going to start his day with Marcus Luttrell, Morgan Luttrell, and Taya Kyle headlining a fundraiser for the Puppy Jake Foundation in Perry, Iowa. The Puppy Jake Foundation trains and places service dogs to assist wounded veterans. From there, Governor Perry will meet up with the riders that are headed to Boone for the Ernst event later that day.

The valuable lessons that Perry learned from his 2012 campaign are making him a much better candidate this time around. He may now find himself in the role of the underdog, but Perry has seemed to embrace it. While some may be quick to write him off because of his “oops” moment from a Fox News debate in 2012, Perry still possesses an impressive record as governor, and he’s now been fully vetted.

Perry is benefitting from having gone through the gauntlet before. It’s abundantly clear that he now understands what a candidate should be doing in a state like Iowa. It is a luxury that many first time presidential candidates don’t enjoy. One of the things I often hear about Perry is people wondering what would have happened if we had seen this year’s Perry in Iowa back in 2011.

I think it’s safe to say that the race would have been completely different. It’s telling that Perry always has some people pondering the “what might have been” question. It’s an indication that what he’s doing in 2015 is working. asked Bob Haus, Perry’s chief Iowa strategist, how Perry’s campaign swing in Northwest Iowa was going. Haus said, “The farm boy is working till the cows come home. Coming to cattle calls alone won’t get the work done.” While the Ida County stop was by far the largest event of the day for Perry, he also had solid crowds earlier in the day in Sioux Center and Le Mars.

But ultimately, to succeed in 2016, Perry must vanquish the ghost of his debate performance last time out, and to be denied a place at the Fox debate – or to be placed at the “children’s table,” at the CNN debate, could be a crushing blow.

Since last night was David Letterman’s sweet and very funny farewell after 33 years on the air, I’ll finish with Letterman’s Top Ten list the day after Perry’s Oops debate performance – Top Ten Rick Perry Excuses – delivered by the admirably game man himself.


Kafka’s Law: `You never look good arresting disabled people ‘

Good morning Austin:

Shortly after ten last night, 15 advocates for the disabled and the attendants who serve them, many of them in wheelchairs, were charged with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the Governor’s Reception Room and the area surrounding the entrance to the Reception Room, which they and about 15 others had been “blockading” for nearly 12 hours. The Capitol generally closes at 10, unless the House or Senate or a hearing is running later than that.

The scene outside the Governor's Reception Room yesterday afternoon.
The scene outside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday afternoon.

From my story in today’s paper, written before the arrests, the advocates wanted Gov. Greg Abbott to throw his weight behind raising the base pay for those home care attendants serving those on Medicaid to a more livable wage of $10 an hour.

Roughly 30 advocates for those with disabilities were demanding that he press the budget conference committee to raise the pay of community-based home care attendants to $10 an hour.

Right now, the base wage for those attendants is $7.86 an hour, without any benefits, sick leave or vacation, which the advocates say makes it hard to find and retain people who can help the elderly and those with disabilities who are eligible for Medicaid. Attendants assist with the basic tasks of everyday life and enable their clients to stay in their homes and out of nursing facilities.

The House budget would add $60 million to the state Health and Human Services Commission to increase that wage by 14 cents an hour. The Senate budget would add $38 million, increasing it by 11 cents an hour. The governor’s budget proposal asked for $105.3 million to “recruit and retain personal attendants,” increasing the base pay by 40 cents, but still well shy of the $10 that advocates said would make the work competitive with the fast-food industry.

Bob Kafka of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas, said it would cost $480 million over two years to raise the base wage to $10 an hour.

“It’s criminal that people essential to our survival can’t feed their kids,” said Jennifer McPhail, another ADAPT organizer, who has cerebral palsy.

From Kafka:

This is one of the most critical issues for people who live in the community. if you can’t find an attendant you just can’t live in the community. Now Walmart and Target are paying $10 and the base pay here in Texas is $7.86. We want the governor to talk to the conference committee and to endorse  $10 for community attendants as a base rate. One of the really sad parts is that even though the rate is so low, it’s even worse because there is no health  insurance  no sick leave and no vacation. So we don’t know where we are going to find the attendants to do the basic things, like getting up in the  morning, taking a shower, eating and just going out into the community.

The scene inside the Governor’s Reception Room yesterday

The demonstrators wanted to meet with the governor – they have talked to top staff in the past – but he wasn’t around the office yesterday, and his schedule is booked through the approaching  end of the session.

Here is a little more on why Kafka was ready to be arrested yesterday.

And here is Melanie Boyte of Austin.

In the politics of protest, being in a wheelchair has its distinct advantages.

First, if you are trying, for example, to blockade Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, the simple fact of their wheelchairs and their bulk make it easier to obstruct things.

And secondly, when it comes time for the state police to arrest you for criminal trespass when you refuse to leave, the wheelchair makes the physical act of executing the arrest more complicated and cumbersome, and, as Kafka pointed out afterward, the optics of arresting folks in wheelchairs always presents a problem.

“You never look good arresting disabled people,” Kafka said.

Outside Gov. Greg Abbott's office.
Outside Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Multiply that by some X factor if, as in this case, the governor is also in a wheelchair.

Kafka knows whereof he speaks. A veteran activist for disability rights, he has been arrested about 35 to 40 times for acts of civil disobedience, in Texas and around the country.

Here from May 23, 2011, under the headline, 14 arrested for protesting budget cuts for disabled

AUSTIN (AP) – Fourteen protesters, many in wheelchairs, were arrested Monday while protesting budget cuts to state programs for the disabled.

Activist Bob Kafka said they were arrested in raucous protests outside Gov. Rick Perry’s rented home and inside the state Capitol. The protests were organized by ADAPT Texas, an advocacy group for the disabled.

The Legislature has voted to cut funding for medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. Lawmakers have also cut funding for personal attendants that allow many disabled people to continue living at home.

One activist was arrested inside the Capitol for sounding a siren to bring attention to their chants demanding more spending on health programs. ADAPT wants lawmakers to use the Rainy Day Fund to maintain the present level of spending for the disabled.

Before that there was this from Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News on March 1, 2011

AUSTIN — Eleven Texans in wheelchairs, denouncing proposed state budget cuts, were ticketed late Tuesday night after refusing to leave a sit-in outside Gov. Rick Perry’s office in the state Capitol.

The protesters were with the disability rights group Adapt of Texas and refused to leave the Capitol when it was closed for the night, while about 20 other members of the group left to set up a vigil outside. David Wittie, 55, one of the sit-in organizers, said he and the others who stayed were cited for trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor, and escorted from the building.

He said the group would meet to discuss future actions.

Another organizer, Bob Kafka, said the group was disappointed that Perry would not meet with them. They wanted Perry to agree in writing to their demand that Texas use all its rainy-day money and raise other revenue to avoid cuts to social services. The Republican governor has urged lawmakers not to use any rainy-day money and opposes tax increases.

And then this, from the AP’s Jim Vertuno on April 10, 2003.

Twenty-five activists for the disabled, most of them in wheelchairs, were charged Thursday with criminal trespassing when they refused to break up a protest in and in front of Gov. Rick Perry’s Capitol office.

Chanting “Gov. Perry, What do you say, How many crips have you cut today?” the disabled-rights group ADAPT staged a demonstration to protest potential budget cuts in services, including in-home attendant care and medication.

Six members of the group, some with severe disabilities, were arrested when they refused to leave Perry’s office when it closed at 5 p.m. The others were issued summonses when they refused the leave the Capitol when it closed five hours later.

Reporters from The Associated Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the San Antonio Express-News and several television stations were told by police they had to leave the building under threat of arrest and were not allowed to witness the late proceedings.

The demonstrators who were arrested said it was worth it to promote their cause.

“It beats dying in a nursing home,” Danny Saenz, one of the activists who is stricken with cerebral palsy, said before state police troopers put him on a bus to take him away.

All were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing, which carries fines of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail.

At 9:55 p.m., police brought Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans to meet with the protesters who remained outside Perry’s offices on the second floor. He read them their rights, told them he respected their civil disobedience and warned them of the consequences of their arrests. He would not speak to the media.

State police then made reporters leave.

The protesters had an attorney, Malcolm Greenstein, on hand. He remained with them after reporters left.

The protesters who were in the Capitol at night were issued summonses for criminal trespass on the spot and allowed to leave. They were given dates to appear in court over the next two months.

“Everybody felt very committed. It’s not fun and games, it’s our lives. These cuts are immoral,” said Bob Kafka, an organizer for ADAPT. He said the group would continue to have a daily presence at the Capitol.

Wow. That’s uncanny. When Vertuno writes something, it stays written.

I mean the scene last night was almost identical in the way it played out, with Kafka, Greenstein and Evans playing the exact same roles a dozen years later, and me filling in for Vertuno and the other reporters. For better or worse, and not realizing at the time that this was more in the nature of a Broadway revival than wholly original premiere,  I reacted with perhaps a smidgen too much outrage when they threatened to arrest me.

State cop: Sir, who are you with?

Me: I’m with the Statesman.

State cop: You need to leave or are you going to be subject to criminal trespass as well. You heard the speech earlier (from Evans).

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: As anybody. Are you going to turn yourself in for criminal trespass?

Me: It seems like an event I should be able to cover.

State cop: You need to leave. You need to leave. You need to leave.

Me: As a reporter …

State cop: You need to leave. YOU NEED TO LEAVE.

On my way out, I attempted to approach Evans.

“I’ll tell you anything you want but I do not want to see my name in the paper,” Evans said.

At that point my escorts were determined that I leave the building, but I was perplexed about Evans’ comment.

He was cast, once again, as the good guy in this production, arriving at the scene in his black robe, and respectfully explaining to the protestors that the police had no interest in arresting them, and the sheriff no interest in jailing them. But, he explained that they could still be charged with criminal trespass and appear before a judge if that was their desire, and that he and his clerk were there to facilitate that process by issuing summonses that would allow them to go home without being booked and jailed last night and then appear in court in July.

Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott's Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.
Travis County Justice of the Peace Herb Evans explains the choices to protestors occupying Gov. Abbott’s Reception Room in the Capitol, as attorney Malcolm Greenstein looks on.

Win-win civil disobedience.

“Rather than carting us off to jail, which for them would have been very difficult, either needing accessible vehicles or trailing us all the way to the courthouse, and then going to jail, they gave us the option of a summons and the promise to appear on July 7 at 10 a.m.,” said Kafka outside the Capitol after his paperwork had been quickly processed.

Or, as Malcolm Greenstein, reprising his role as Malcolm Greenstein, explained, “they were charged with criminal trespass and they received a field release citation. You get a ticket to show up for court and when they show at JP, they will do paper work and be booked in and booked out at the booking desk. It is in lieu of going to jail now.”


Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott's office
Attorney Malcolm Greenstein after the arrests at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office

“Travis County has adopted this field release program, instead of getting arrested, you show up at a certain time, you go into the bond office, then you get fingerprinted and photographed and released. Then it goes into the system like all other criminal cases. It’s a Class B misdemeanor. What could happen is up to six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine,” Greenstein explained.

But that seems very unlikely.

Outside the Capitol afterwards, it was a beautiful night, breezy and perfectly temperate.

The disability advocates felt good about how they had spent their day.

A few had slices of pizza, now cold. Dominos had delivered ten pizzas to their blockade a few hours earlier.

Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott's office ordered.
Organizer Joe Tate on the arrival of pizza for the demonstrators at Gov. Greg Abbott’s office ordered.


But the police would not let the nine protestors ensconced inside the Reception Room eat in that elegant space. (That’s apparently general rule and not specific to people engaged in a sit-in.) If they left the room they were relinquishing their occupation. And the protestors outside the Reception Room refused to have any pizza as long as their inside brothers and sisters were unable to eat.


Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.
Joe Tate leaves with the cold pizza as demonstrators prepared to be arrested.

As everyone disappeared into the night, I rounded the corner at the Capitol on the way to my car and encountered another unlikely scene.

It’s Austin Flow Jam. You know, poi, hooping, acro-yoga, fan-spinning, juggling. Like that.

Every Tuesday night, outside your Capitol.

Here is Kira Bolin, your Flow Jam hostess.


Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol
Kira Bolin, organizer with boyfriend Chris Rovo, of Austin Flow Jam every Tuesday night at the Capitol



Meanwhile, and it may seem incredibly petty bringing this up in the context of what you just read, but when I took a mid-afternoon break from minding the blockade to get something at the Capitol cafeteria, I ordered my usual BLT.

Only then did I read the sign that was staring at me.


The Capitol toaster is being repaired.
The Capitol toaster is being repaired.

Our toaster is currently being repaired?

Really? The only toaster in the Texas State Capitol cafeteria is being repaired?

I didn’t think toasters got repaired. I thought you just got a new one.

And, we will see you on Monday? That’s half the remaining time in the session away.

Well, Ok, fine.

No toaster.

Life goes on.

But have you ever had a BLT with the bread untoasted?

I never had and I never will again. It was horrible, virtually inedible.

Everything was identical to the usual Texas State Capitol BLT, which I love, except for the bread not being toasted, and it made all the difference.

That’s all.



Disabled activists blockade Gov. Abbott’s office

Our Jonathan Tilove is covering a situation at the Texas Capitol where disabled activists have been blockading the governor’s office for more than three hours. According to Tilove’s tweets, the activists want Gov. Greg Abbott to direct lawmakers working on the budget to find $480 million to cover a $10 hourly wage for community attendants.