Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Busting Filibuster Busts Texas GOP


Today, it is an embarrassment to be a pro-life advocate in Texas.

As Republican pundits begin their bitter post-mortems of last night's stunning defeat of their ambitious pro-life legislation in the Texas Senate, liberals continue celebrating their boisterous victory and the birth of two potential stars in the state's Democratic Party.

Wendy Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, was supposed to filibuster Senate Bill 5 for approximately 13 hours Tuesday and force Republican governor Rick Perry to call a second special session.  Texas Republican senators had all the votes they needed on SB 5 to pass it handily, including the vote of lone Democrat Eddie Lucio from far south Texas, what we call "The Valley," near the border with heavily Catholic Mexico.

Liberals, however, angry about the bill's provisions that would, among other things, reduce the timeframe of legal abortions by two weeks, and close most abortion clinics in the state, wanted to use the parliamentary procedure of a filibuster to kill the bill.  As it happened, the Texas legislature was already in a special session called by Perry, and if SB 5 died as a result of the Democrats' filibuster, he would be forced to call a second special session to get it passed.

However, as it happened, it wasn't the Democrats who killed SB 5 and it's pro-life measures, but Republicans themselves.  How embarrassing.

Filly Blustering

The rules for a Texas filibuster are pretty straightforward.  The filibuster is a rudimentary delay tactic in which a member of the opposition gives a speech of sorts to simply eat up time.  The person giving the filibuster has to speak on-topic and without breaks for however long it takes.  They have to stand unaided the whole time, without eating, going to the restroom, or leaning against anything or anyone.  I've read where some people preparing to give a filibuster actually fit themselves, underneath their clothing, with spacesuit-type bags into which they can discretely eliminate their body waste.  Depending on how long the filibuster has to be to accomplish its purpose, it can be a physically, mentally, and emotionally grueling process.

Senator Davis started her filibuster yesterday after 11:00am, wearing a white suit and comfy pink sneakers.  I watched for a little bit in the morning, and she spoke slowly and deliberately, as if she wasn't sure if she had enough material to last all 13 hours.  It was all partisan rhetoric about her version of women's rights, without any acknowledgement about the life that was being denied any rights whatsoever inside its mother's womb.

"OK, so she's not going to break any new ground with this speech," I figured, and I then went about my day, only briefly wondering how many of Davis' fellow senators stayed in the chamber to listen to her drone away.

So... that was me being stupid.  Of course, as we now know, Republican senators were listening to her every word.  Not because they found her filibuster interesting or compelling, but because they were checking to make sure she stayed on-topic.  In a Texas filibuster, you have three strikes and then you're out.  And Republicans were picking over virtually every word Davis spoke to find any instances where she broke the rules of the filibuster and could rack up a strike.

Republicans called strike one when Davis referenced federal court decisions regarding abortion, saying it was nongermane to Texas legislation (we're strong on states rights here, remember?).  Frankly, I think that's splitting hairs a bit too finely, since we all know that the whole reason Texas Republicans are pushing SB 5 is because it's their only recourse against the federal implications of Roe v. Wade.

Strike two came when a senator from Dallas, Royce West, helped Davis put on a back brace.  That was a legitimate strike, even though Republicans have caught grief for appearing to otherwise wish ill health upon a colleague.  If Davis has a bad back, she should have put on a back brace before she began, like she put on athletic shoes.  Considering how narrowly Republicans had already proven they were parsing the filibuster rules, Democrats were foolish to try and get away with the back brace thing.

And sure enough, Republicans called strike three when Davis began talking about sonograms and other pro-life laws that had been passed that "restricted" women's rights to kill their unborn babies without seeing them first.  Republicans wanted that ruled nongermane.  Now, I'm pro-life, but I can't see how referencing sonograms - a medical procedure that could be included in the impact of closing clinics providing abortions, as mandated by SB 5 - is getting off-topic.

Rule the Day

At that point, Democrats were clearly frustrated and angry.  They began a series of stalling tactics by calling procedural points, pulling out their personal copies of the Senate's rule book, stumbling over page numbers, editors notes, and generally acting like few of them had ever looked through those books before.  But they saw their chance at picking up the baton where Republicans had tried to wrest it from Davis, and they ran with it.  All the way through the midnight hour, which, at that point, was all but drowned out by the raucous cheers from a defiantly pro-choice gallery of hecklers.

It was theater of the absurd, long before the cheering, with Senator West, from Dallas, calling a point of order on a point of order, or something like that - nobody really knew.  He was definitely stalling, beating senatorial procedures to death with claiming to want a ruling on something he couldn't explain himself.  Obviously agitated, the Senate's president began to simply meander his own way through rulings, eliciting more furor from his Democratic colleagues.  One of those colleagues was Leticia Van De Putte, who began insisting that the Senate's president was ignoring her.

"At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” she finally demanded.  It was all the gallery needed to hear.  That's when they erupted into a sustained cheer that carried the session all the way past midnight - about 10 minutes worth of applause, catcalling, whistling, chanting, and general mayhem.

Senators on the floor were clearly caught off-guard.  The Senate president tried to do a roll-call vote, but the cacophony from pro-choicers in the gallery drowned it out.  Finally, a little after midnight, the gallery had been cleared, and silent decorum had returned to the chamber, but it was too late.  A couple of hours later, early this morning, beleaguered Republicans admitted their bill had been defeated.

Most Republicans are angry that an "Occupy Wall Street" mob could so severely disrupt an official business meeting of elected representatives in such a bizarre way.  And I did wonder myself - I watched the last hour and a half live online - why they didn't simply clear the gallery when the protesters obviously were not going to follow the rules.  I've heard some pundits say that the gallery holds a couple of hundred people in a balcony-type setting that is not quickly evacuated, and there were hundreds more protesters on both sides of the debate clogging hallways throughout the Capitol building last night, which was probably giving the fire marshal fits.  Which would have been worse:  allowing the protesters to continue their chants, or sending riot police into the gallery to forcibly remove them?

No, had Republicans wanted the proceedings to continue with integrity, they would have let Davis plod on with her rhetoric-drenched diatribe, even if it meant she would obtain a modest degree of temporary fame as the big-haired Texan who stole a vote by harping on a subject for 13 hours straight.  Republicans were right in calling a strike on the back brace, but the two other strikes they called were illegitimate and downright petty pig-headedness.  Their vitriol against abortion was not confined to the idea of fetal murder, nor was it mindful of the women who've been duped by sadistic propaganda into considering it a morally-viable option.  Through their small-minded machinations of their interpretations of the rules, Republicans betrayed their disdain for Davis, and were so cavalier in the process that they ended up giving Democrats the starring role in what otherwise would have been a legislative yawner.

We've now got a likely second special session, one that would have happened anyway if Davis had been successful in her filibuster.  And, in a way, she was.  And not only her, but Senator Van De Putte, somebody nobody outside of Texas had ever heard of before, and probably not even many Texans.

Republican senators have nobody to blame but themselves and their thinly-veiled malice.

Might Right's Might Right Might?

I've never been able to understand how conservatives in general - and evangelicals in particular, many of whom are livid at what they see as mob rule by the pro-choice lobby last night - can justify their self-righteous swagger.  After all, their own self-righteous swagger was what led to the Republican's defeat on the floor of the Texas Senate.  I suspect the idea that being right equates to might has something to do with this swagger, but isn't there a difference between being confident in your beliefs yet being considerate towards your opposition?  How might conservatives have howled if the tables had been turned?

Remember, I found no pleasure in watching last night's debate unravel into dysfunction.  Republicans - and Democratic Senator Lucio - have the moral obligation in attempting to protect the unborn, and I expect this bill to pass easily should the governor call another special session.  But what Biblical model can pro-lifers reference to hold such animosity towards pro-choicers like Davis?

When considering the life of Christ, when is the one time we see Him lash out in any form of demonstrable anger?  It was the time He saw His Father's house being mocked, correct?  He never held hostility towards rapists, or robbers, or deceitful politicians, even though all of those people must have existed during His time on Earth.  If you could see Jesus calling a point of order on Senator Davis referencing sonograms during her filibuster last night, or blaming unruly crowds in the gallery for SB 5's languishment, then do you have an accurate estimation of His temperament?

As I've been writing this out today, the Supreme Court has bedazzled the media with two highly-anticipated rulings* regarding gay marriage that will likely bump Davis' and Van De Putte's victory way down the list of headline news.  Texas conservatives will lick their self-inflicted wounds and, in all likelihood, come back to pass their sweeping pro-life legislation.  But just like abortion, gay marriage represents an area where we evangelicals have a grand opportunity to demonstrate Godly integrity and holiness.  And we need to remember that the ends don't justify the means.

Swaggering into a debate to claim our stake in its outcome can be fraught with our own self-made pitfalls.

Update:  Governor Perry has called for a second special session to begin on July 1.

*As we all continue to digest today's Supreme Court rulings, here are a few facts to consider from the Gospel Coalition.

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