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Texas Still Waiting for the 21st Century to Show Up
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Sometimes rhetorical questions demand answers. When Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” the deafening roar from the gallery carried Wendy Davis’ filibuster over the midnight finish line last summer. But Van de Putte only got an answer last week. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if a woman is even dead or raped. Texas Republicans don’t recognize women at all.
The Texas constitution endows the office of the lieutenant governor with such power as to make Dick Cheney shy with desire. The “lite guv” presides over the state senate and picks not only the chairs of each committee but the members of each committee as well, Republican and Democrat. The current occupant of the office, David Dewhurst, lost his primary against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate. Now up for re-election, Dewhurst is perceived to be vulnerable and has three serious primary opponents.
Well, “serious” might be overstating the case, but the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor debated in Dallas las week. In fact, “debated” might be overstating things as well because the quartet pretty much agreed that women barely matter at all when it comes to making decisions for themselves, bless their hearts. When the 21st Century deigns to show up in Texas it will be shocked.
The first question out of the box was how they came down on the case of Marlise Munoz. Last November Munoz had a pulmonary embolism. At the time, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Munoz was brain dead and had signed a living will. Her fetus was deformed and likely brain damaged due to her oxygen loss. Her family wanted to let her go. However, the hospital refused to take her off life support, though “life support” is certainly the wrong term. Under state law, the hospital argued, they had to maintain Marlise’s body until they could deliver her baby. After several weeks, a judge ordered the plug pulled.
Any sane person would send the judge flowers, but in the debate the four horsemen of the Republican Party took turns disagreeing with the judge’s ruling and repeating incantations that they “always err on the side of life.” By implication, they reduced the woman to temporary housing for a fetus, living will be damned.
Also receiving universal according was the subject of abortion exceptions for rape and incest. You may be excused for thinking that after Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch lost senate seats by opposing rape exceptions that the Texas Republicans would avoid making the same mistake, but you would be wrong. All four valiantly opposed exceptions for rape and incest, a position to the right of most Republican voters even here in Texas.
The Republicans took turns “erring on the side of life,” such as this example from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.
“To say that we have an unborn child that is the result of rape and somehow that is less lifelike or inferior to the life that was created through a natural, non-catastrophic event like that, doesn’t make any sense. It’s either life or it’s not life. So I do not support exceptions for rape and incest,” said Patterson, widely regarded as the most thoughtful of the bunch.
Patterson’s position does not lack logic. But when neither Patterson nor anyone else on stage mentioned the rights of the woman who was raped, the Republican field ceded the moral high ground.
Coverage of the debate focused more on the lack of disagreement and less on the fact that the Republicans agreed on radical social positions that make national news when espoused by politicians elsewhere. In Texas, sexism is so institutionalized it seems normal, but at least Van de Putte finally got an answer to the question she asked during Wendy Davis’ filibuster. And as it turns out, she is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and will get to run against whichever one of those four men makes it out of the primary.
This fall, she-and millions of Texas women-will finally be recognized.
Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.