(Ed. note: This column by Glenn Smith ran in last week's issue of Texas Weekly.)
When Stevie Ray Vaughn sang his bluesy version of the anti-littering slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas” in an ad during the 1986 Cotton Bowl Classic, the phrase instantly, if unofficially, displaced “Friendship” as the state motto.
Defiantly, Texas has been a mess ever since.
Don’t get me wrong. Texas folk are as friendly and hardworking as ever. It’s our slapstick rulers who get the blame. Had we hired them as football coaches instead of governors and the like, they’d still be peeling off the tar and feathers.
They haven’t been coaches, though. Many of ‘em, God help us, were cheerleaders: George W. Bush at Yale; Kay Bailey Hutchison at UT; Rick Perry at A&M. Cheerleaders and Republicans. What were we thinking?
Idea for seminars at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Baker Institute of Public Policy, and the Bush School of Government and Public Service: How do you fire a cheerleader?
Or, even better, how the hell did rough and tumble Texans, rugged individualists who prefer thirty-ought-sixes to pom-poms, get themselves into this fix?
I watched it all unfold. We could start by noting that the ascendency of Texas Republicans more or less overlapped the reign of the slasher-film franchise, Friday the 13th. Maybe after having our pants scared back on (it was, after all, sex that got the films’ victims into trouble), we took refuge in the un-sexiest place of all — the cheerleading squad. It must have seemed safer than Jason Vorhees’ Camp Crystal.
But it wasn’t sex that got us into trouble. At least that would have been fun. No, it was that other great motivator: money. Conservative, white, ill-advised aliens poured into Texas suburbs in the 80s. They were attracted, I guess, by the dirt-cheap auction of the savings & loan scandal’s foreclosed homes. The political moneymen saw the writing on the strip-mall walls and threw in with the Republicans.
These former southern Democratic stalwarts turned Republican enablers were relieved that they could finally quit wrestling with the legacy left them by President Lyndon Johnson. In the wake of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, they’d spent two decades trying to hang on to the votes of Blacks and Hispanics while reassuring Anglo Texas that the future remained theirs. As Republicans, they could say goodbye to all that.
The consequence, sadly, is we’ve all had to say hello to the highest public school dropout rates and the highest insurance rates in the nation. We pay tolls to a Spanish company for the privilege of driving from one urban traffic jam to another, while the path to opportunity — college — is now so expensive most of our children can’t afford it.
Today we face the fright-fest of two of the cheerleaders —Perry and Hutchison — running against one another for governor. I’d say they were fighting over the Governor’s Mansion, except it burned down in Texas’ own Friday the 13th Part XIII.
Hutchison is hoping she can leave Perry holding the teabaggers. Perry is cheering for secession and chanting “watermelon, watermelon” at the federal economic stimulus while he takes the money.
Two experienced Democrats — Houston Mayor Bill White and former state Comptroller John Sharp — are running for the U.S. Senate. Former Ambassador Tom Schieffer, country boy Hank Gilbert and others are running for governor. “Others” is just the right category for Kinky Friedman, by the way. Democrats are on the cusp of taking back the state House. Where are their other statewide candidates? Like the Republicans, they are letting the cakewalk music play to see what seats are left open after Hutchison resigns, doesn’t resign, or just drops her pom-poms.
Health care reform is going to pass. The economy is recovering. The Republican brand is at an all-time low, dragged there by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and, yes, Rick Perry. Conventional wisdom — that 2010 won’t be good for Democrats — sounds like excuse making from the lobbyists and courtiers who give mums to the cheerleaders and get their legislative perky-perks in return.
Against all odds, Democrats are more organized than ever. It is time Texas’ movers and shakers moved and shook and cleaned up our 20-year mess. You know who you are. And to paraphrase another horror show, we know what you’ve been doing these past summers.
Glenn Smith is a Democratic consultant and the blogger-in-chief at DogCanyon.com.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.