Analysis: Texas Politics Ain’t Fun and Games, But This Year Is One of a Kind

Nastiness and politics go together like expensive coffee and free wifi. Presidential races often prompt urges for civility. Even so, the forces of decency, propriety and good taste kinda have a point this year.

Rob Morrow spoke to reporters on Aug. 24, 2016, in Austin about losing his post as Travis County GOP chairman.

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Can we observe a moment of reflection for the civic prudes — those lonely, stodgy folks who come around at this time of an election cycle lamenting the loss of decorum in public life?

Nastiness and politics go together like expensive coffee and free wifi. Presidential races often prompt urges for civility. This one is a doozy, with historically disliked candidates and deep differences between the people supporting each of them. They could be nicer, maybe, but that is a quadrennial fantasy. It’s an ugly business.

Even so, the forces of decency, propriety and good taste kinda have a point.

Consider the latest evidence. The political discourse of the past week featured concealed handguns and unconcealed sex toys on college campuses, a continuing legal fight over which public restrooms are open to which people and a loathsome local political leader whose demise delighted the elders of his own Republican Party.

Remember when you could watch the news in front of the children?

The state extended its concealed carry laws to state college and university campuses as of Aug 1. When University of Texas at Austin students recently arrived for the school year that followed, a long-promised protest blossomed: Opponents of allowing handguns on campus made their feelings known by attaching dildos and vibrators to their backpacks. Blossomed? Well, yes: Thanks to donated products and enthusiastic organizers, thousands of students now have protest props.

They manufactured the sort of pictures that make for viral video, and the #CocksforGlocks crowd got the attention they sought. Some think the protest was improper. Some think guns on campus are improper. That’s politics — and also a source of some discomfort in the public square.

The state and federal governments are fighting in court over the rights of transgender people. That’s also one of the leading edges of the culture wars that politicians employ to excite their followers and disillusion their opponents.

What started with a legal skirmish over federal rules that would allow transgender individuals to use the restrooms corresponding with the gender they identify with now also includes the state’s objection to federal regulations prohibiting discrimination in health programs.

The timing of the bathroom brawl that started things, roaring to public attention within a few months of a big national election, is suspect on all sides. And it shares a squirm factor with the collegiate wrangle over weapons of choice.

The even more wince-worthy adventures of Robert Morrow are winding to an end. Morrow, a political crank and conspiracy theorist, filed to run for chairman of the Travis County Republican Party and surprised nearly everyone by beating a well-regarded incumbent in the March primary.

Remember when you could watch the news in front of the children?

He immediately lived up to his reputation and began embarrassing the GOP, grabbing headlines across the country for the things he wore, the signs he carried, the words he said and the fact that he seemed to be the very embodiment of the politics of 2016.

Weird. Inappropriate. Embarrassing. Hard to take seriously. And, somehow, electable.

Morrow knocked himself out of office by filing papers with the state of Texas allowing him to run as a write-in candidate for president. State law prevents party chairs from running for elected public office, so his filing disqualified him for the job he won nearly six months earlier.

He’s gone, more or less. He no longer commands the Travis GOP’s bully pulpit, but he’s still got the social media accounts that helped make him notorious and he’s a candidate again.

He’s also a convenient poster boy of an uncomfortable phase of politics. You can take the opposing view, of course. This is politics, and politics is hardball. It is sometimes coarse. Sex toys and guns and restrooms and circus acts are just part of the deal.

The ballot offers you a way to express that, too. Morrow got where he is (or where he isn’t, as of Friday) by filing with the state of Texas as an independent candidate for president.

He’s still out there, wearing his jester hat and carrying on, campaigning to represent whomever will have him.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

  • Don’t count Donald Trump as a supporter of Rick Perry for Senate 2018 just yet. He’s more of a fight promoter at this point, or — dare we say it — a polished politician.

  • For all of the talk about how Donald Trump might hurt the chances for other Republicans on the ballot, Texas conservatives don’t seem all that worried. It’s because they’re on safe political ground.
  • Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee who is trailing in national polls and in important swing states around the country, decides Austin, Texas, would be a great place for a general election rally. Go figure that one out.

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