Our Favorite Texas Political Stories of 2015
Texas politics is an excellent spectator's sport because there's always some new mess to watch unfolding. This year has been no exception. Now that the year is drawing to a close though, here are our five favorite Texas political stories from 2015:
5. State Rep. Molly White becomes loudly anti-Muslim
In January state Rep. Molly White, a Republican freshman congresswoman, was out of town during Texas Muslim Capitol Day, but that didn't stop her from making a statement. White left an Israeli flag on her reception desk and instructed her staff to ask any Muslims that stopped by her office to renounce "Islamic terrorist groups" and pledge allegiance to the United States. "We'll see how long they stay in my office," she concluded.
The story became national news and White defended herself by saying she was just being honest.
On their own, White's antics are troubling, but what's most striking about the story is how White's views turned out to be a harbinger of the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Texas over the course of 2015.
When Houston Independent School District opened an Arabic immersion school this fall, the students were greeted with protesters. Protesters also set up outside of a North Texas mosque toting guns. Then there was the gleeful social media response to a Houston mosque fire, and the North Texas town that balked at having a Muslim cemetery. The stories have been steadily coming out all year from all over the state.
Meanwhile, in the face of the Syrian refugee crisis, Sen. Ted Cruz said the United States should only allow Christian Syrian refugees into the country while Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statement saying he wouldn't allow Texas to accept any Syrians.
White's display of narrow-minded rampant intolerance wound up being remarkable, not because it was so rare and tone deaf, but because White was actually expressing sentiments that a lot of Texans evidently agree with.
4. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's lackluster year
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has had a hard year. Even though he started his new gig as lieutenant governor, a position some say is the most powerful political office in Texas, and was gearing up to lead the the Texas Senate in the 84th biennial legislative session, he ended making a mess of the whole thing.
First, there were the advisory boards. One of the boards was comprised of millionaires and Patrick campaign donors while the other was made up of hard right Tea Party faithful. The Tea Party crew ended up calling out Gov. Greg Abbott on funding pre-kindergarten, a move that had to make things uncomfortable for Patrick since pre-K is one of Abbott's priorities.
Patrick also told the Texas Tribune he didn't think open carry would be a legislative priority and that he didn’t think there was support in the Lege to pass it, so he wasn't going push for it. He ended up furiously backpedaling and doing whatever he could to satisfy the open carry supporters and get open carry legislation passed.
His relationship with leadership in the Lege got worse as the year went on. At one point, he held a press conference affirming his support of the National Guard border surge only to have state House Speaker Joe Strauss immediately point out that Patrick is only second-in-command. Abbott's office stayed silent.
Patrick also managed to embarrass himself on Twitter yet again in response to a New York Daily News cover on the San Bernardino shootings. He created a fake newspaper with the headline, "14 Dead in California Mass Shooting: God Hears Our Prayers." Then he was surprised when Twitter mocked him. He deleted the Tweet.
The saddest/funniest part is he still doesn't seem to get what he's doing wrong with, well, everything.
3. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, the caricature of Texas politics
This guy has been consistently entertaining throughout the year. Whether he's expounding the virtues of cupcakes and school deep fryers, advocating for a nuclear solution to the Middle East or threatening to slap anyone who wishes him "happy holidays," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller comes across like a cartoon of a Republican Texas politician.
It's all culminated with the grand irony that is Miller's approach to funding his commission. Miller has been going on for months about how he doesn't have enough in the way of state funding to properly run his agency, despite the fact that he voted to cut the budget when he was in the state legislature in 2011. He claimed he needed $50 million extra to fund the Ag Commission properly.
However, it turns out that is apparently, hilariously and ridiculously not entirely true, based on the bonuses Miller has been giving out this year. Miller has been giving out one-time cash bonuses to employees since taking office nine months ago. In fact, he has awarded $413,700 to 144 employees so far, according to the Houston Chronicle, more bonuses than Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar combined.
The only thing that would make this revelation better is if it turns out Miller is secretly a vegetarian who eschews all fried meat and cupcakes in private.
2. Ted Cruz, a viable presidential candidate?
Sen. Ted Cruz has had a fascinating political campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He started out on the far right of the party as the kind of candidate that the party occasionally offers up to make the real candidates seem more reasonable. But that was before Donald Trump defied all odds and expectations.
Instead, Cruz has ended up coming off sounding reasonable.
Meanwhile, Cruz is trailing his buddy Trump — he's apparently gone to great effort to "befriend" the Donald and thus ingratiate himself to Trump and his followers — but he's still pulling the same tricks he pulled to vault himself to a U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
Back in March he delivered a fiery speech in New Hampshire when he told a little girl her world was "on fire." Eventually he seemed to realize scaring children isn't good PR and he dialed it down a bit, but the kid looked thoroughly freaked out.
He didn't back down later this year when another audience member asked him about a woman's right to choose. Cruz's answer to the whole contraception question? Condoms, of course. According to Cruz, all of women's contraceptive needs are covered by the good old prophylactic sheath that can be purchased in a bathroom for a couple of quarters. (He apparently has no idea women use birth control pills to keep from getting pregnant and to treat various medical, non-baby-making conditions, which is pretty typical Cruz.)
So yeah, Cruz is the same old playing-to-the-cheap-seats political opportunist he was when he started the race. However, thanks to Trump and a GOP presidential race that has drowned all impulses for substance and nuance in favor of oversimplification, shock and fear, he is being perceived as, well, reasonable. Yes, it's alarming, but it will certainly be a fascinating show to watch in 2016.
1. Rick Perry wasn't crazy enough on the presidential campaign trail
When former-Gov. Rick Perry threw caution, sense and a whole bunch of other things to the wind by making another run at the GOP White House nod for 2016, we fully expected that he would embarrass himself on a new level.
In 2012 he'd bumbled every chance even though he'd been initially viewed as a serious contender. This time Perry, saddled with a pair of indictments and still trying to repair the damage his previous pain pill-fueled run had done to his image, seemed to be facing insurmountable obstacles to the Republican presidential nomination.
And then he surprised everyone by actually having some gravitas. He talked about finance and global politics and gave a remarkably insightful speech about race relations. It was a fascinating change. Unfortunately for Perry, this was the year of Trump and substance went out the window in favor of invective designed to whip up the GOP into an absolute frenzy.
Still, for a brief shining moment — about two weeks — it seemed like Perry's response to digs from Trump was working in Perry's favor. Trump would make fun of Perry and look like an idiot and then Perry would shut it down in a manner that was, dare we say it, downright presidential.
But then in July after a speech on Wall Street reform at the Yale Club in New York, a reporter told Perry that Trump had been saying that Perry didn't belong on the debate stage and had questioned Perry's "energy, toughness and 'brainpower." Perry responded by challenging Trump to a pull-up contest.
Not coincidentally, it was about that time the Perry campaign began to really circle the drain. His speech on financial reform was ignored while the pull-up challenge was covered by almost every news outlet — including us. He didn't make it to the grownup stage for the first debate.
By August, Perry's presidential hopes were looking pretty dim. By September he was out of the race.