Wednesday, July 3, 2013

“Crazier Shit Than I've Seen In 30 Years Of Writing About Punk Rock Bands”: Weird Scenes Inside The Texas Legislature

The Dallas Morning News captures one of the poor Blue People who apparently no one was listening to....

Yeah, most of you are aware I've returned to the wonderful world of full-time freelance rock 'n' roll journalism, thanks to the kindness of The Austin Chronicle. Mind you, the spoils are far less plentiful than in my supposed heyday back in the '90s. Hence, I have to work something part-time, a few days per week. I lost my latest retail gig last week, so I took on a new one. One that now makes me a full-time writer and journalist.

Without revealing the name of the company I work for, which might be unprofessional, I was hired by a private subscription service as something between a straight news reporter and a minutes-taker. My job is basically to attend hearings in the Texas State Legislature, record who said what at what time, write it up in as dry a manner as possible, and then it's sent out to a list of several hundred (or maybe several thousand?) subscribers, civics groups and the like, I'm guessing. It pays about three dollars more per hour than I've enjoyed in about five years, and beats retail and day labor, which were my most recent jobs.

My first day was yesterday. Which means I was plunged, along with another young lady, into the HB2 hearing. Yep, the abortion debate. Basically, the sequel to the remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington starring an overnight sensation named Sen. Wendy Davis that we all watched the last Tuesday in June via live streaming. Overnight, Sen. Davis became an international political star with an 11-hour filibuster that slowly, spontaneously gathered support as people from around the state – not just the city of Austin – began filing into the statehouse, 'til there were thousands spilling out of the gallery and into every nook and cranny of the Capitol building. When it became apparent Sen. Davis' eloquent words alone were not going to stop SB5 (as it was called last week), thousands of Texans decided to help. Really fucking loud. Louder than your average heavy metal gig. It was enough to unnerve the smug old bastards – white men, one and all (with the aid of a handful of deluded women) – in their expensive suits, throwing them completely off their game. A vote was called, but too late. They passed the damned bill, but at two minutes after midnight, when the special session had ended. And despite some sneaky bastard attempting to change the time-stamp (and getting caught by internet screen shot, which went viral immediately), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had to grumpily concede time had expired, then claimed the vote was derailed by "an unruly mob using Occupy Wall Street tactics."

Why were these people angry about a bill lawmakers claimed repeatedly was “designed to protect women and babies?” Well, as Huffington Post put it, “The legislation would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regulated first-trimester abortion clinics as ambulatory surgical centers and restricted access to medication abortions. Had it passed, nearly all of the clinics in the state would have been shuttered.”

In short, it was the latest legal bomb anti-abortion forces were lobbing at Roe vs. Wade. Finally realizing they will never get that landmark Supreme Court decision repealed, they've instead worked at chipping away at it on a local level, state-by-state. SB5 would have been the most sweeping destruction of Roe vs. Wade yet. So now the world's eyes are on Texas.

But Gov. Rick Perry being Gov. Jackass – vowing at a Los Angeles anti-abortion rally two years back to keep the pressure up until “Roe v. Wade is nothing but a shameful footnote in our nation’s history books” -  he called for another special session the next day to finally get this bill passed. The taxpayers' cost for Perry to grind his ax? Potentially $800K. There's your limited government and reduction of spending in action for you....

So, July 2, 2013, the House panel is called to order by Chairman Byron Cook (Republican, District 8) shortly after 3:30 PM with an admonishment for “mutual respect” from those present to testify. As Burnt Orange Report's Editor-In-Chief Katherine Haenschen put it as she live-blogged the hearing, “That's rich, coming from someone who refused to let everyone testify in the first session and who has already indicated that the testimony of actual Texans will make no impact on committee members.” The auditorium is packed, so I find an overflow room screening a closed-circuit feed around 3:30 PM. Outside and in, hundreds are milling and filing in, at this point more the Pro-Lifers in blue shirts with a strip of red tape with “LIFE” scrawled across in Marks-A-Lot than the orange-shirted Pro-Choicers. This is likely due to Pro-Choicers needing to work and coming down after 5 or 6. The Blue People are already apparently a smug lot, and likely have the leisure to drive down from Dallas or wherever, and take off from work if need be. I'm already cursing myself for not having some duct tape and a sharpie, so I can rub “DEATH” in their faces. (Not that I necessarily want to wear orange. It's a hideous color that does not agree with me, better suited for John Boehner and Snookie. But my soul is definitely more orange than blue. Yeah, I'm biased. This is my blog. Shut up.)

Ten minutes into being questioned by Rep. Sylvester Turner (Democrat, District 139), it became evident that the author of HB2 (one of the two new bills SB5 was split into), Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (Republican, District 89), is a Disney Animatronics robot run amok. She apparently has an 11-word vocabulary: “My intention is to protect the health and safety of women.” This is the only answer Laubenberg gives, repeatedly, as she is asked some very good questions by Turner and Democratic Rep. Jessica Farrar of District 148: “My intention is to protect the health and safety of women.” Turner presses, as he will through the hearing, a very good question: If ambulatory clinics and the like are going to be required to upgrade to meet newly mandated state standards under Laubenberg's bill should it become law, shouldn't the state provide the funds to do so, so that these clinics – frequently rural residents' best health care resource – won't have to close? “My intention is to protect the health and safety of women.” Always delivered with the same flat-lining syntax of a serious anti-psychotics abuser. Were I still a drinking man, I could've gotten seriously fucked-up in ten minutes playing this drinking game.

Over an hour furiously scribbling notes on this madness would destroy the mightiest of men. A mind goes to mush by the 115th “my intention is to protect the health and safety of women.” Thankfully, the woman I was partnered with to cover this tag-team style arrived after enduring an hour's search for parking. I had to leave, get a 7-11 hot dog and iced tea and sit as far away from the madness as possible, reading TSOL singer Jack Grisham's fine fictionalized “memoir,” An American Demon. A man needs a little punk rock and fine literature to restore the damage of an endless tape loop of “my intention is to protect the health and safety of women.”

I returned to the Capitol an hour later, properly fortified. My mind may have been playing tricks on me, but it sure seemed there were a helluva lot more State Troopers on-hand than three hours' ago. This is not a good thing. But Orange People are now far outnumbering Blue People, and this is a good thing. Not only are the Orange People more righteous and more fun, they also bring good pizza and cookies. This is important.

6:33 PM, back in the overflow room, it's maybe 90 minutes into the citizens' testimony Rep. Byron Cook didn't want to hear last time around. At this point, he needn't have worried, as it's mostly Blue People speaking with the proper disgust (if male) or hand-wringing/weeping melodrama (if female), with lots of appeals to “human decency” and choruses of “babies feel pain after 20 weeks,” or the females speaking of their “shame when I killed my baby,” or being “forced into the abortion” by evil clinic staff and abusive boyfriends. Some get detailed cross-examination from Cook if they are Blue. If they are Orange, they get a disinterested “you have 30 seconds” from Cook at the 2:30 mark.

After a time, it becomes apparent that for every Orange speaker, Cook calls up maybe three Blue speakers. At 11:01 PM, Rep. Farrar makes sure the record reflects that, at that point, 42 had spoken for the bill, 33 against it – with over a thousand outside that would not speak before Cook's 12:01 AM deadline. Another speaker notes that she saw, at 11 AM, Blue People registering their 8-year-old children and even unborn babies to speak for the bill. The Orange speakers eventually get more righteous, including a number of women who registered their contempt for the panel: One Katy Hime informed the panel that “the men up here have no manners” and that she wouldn't “give you my gynecological details – it's none of your business!”

Outside, during another break, as the Orange People definitely now outnumber the Blue People, I distinctly see one Blue woman not even attempt to hide the contempt that washed across her face. Which makes me consider completely incorrect violence. But I am a reasonable human being, unlike her, so I let it pass. And as the pizza and cookies arrived, I note who appears to be providing the Blue People with their free grub: Chik-Fil-A. You've got it: The comfort food of Christian fag haters America-wide....

Back in the overflow chamber, the Blue People were getting funnier:
“I'm Brian MacAuliffe, speaking for the bill. I am a juggler....”


Turns out Brian is some sorta juggler for Christ, stationing himself outside abortion clinics to educate the poor souls wanting to go in and get advice (without being molested by pesky jugglers) of their “alternatives.” Let me guess? Marrying the father and having the kid? Wait – giving it up for adoption? Of course! Why not? I mean, she only loathes the bastard that raped her! Let's see the child through!

But the self-proclaimed “sidewalk angel” has got better jokes up his sleeve: “Abortion makes men think of women as sex objects!”

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Wow! This guy's got odd ideas of what makes a woman hot, doesn't he? “You had an abortion?! Ooh, baby! Let's fuck – right here, right NOW! I've GOT to have you, you sweet thang!”

Then there's Mrs. Terry Reed of Dallas, who most assuredly did not put out a phenomenal blues rock LP in 1969 and promote it opening for the Rolling Stones on their US tour that year. But damn, has she got some insight into America's problems:

"We are in an economic crisis because of abortion!"

Wait! You mean, this mess isn't because of thieves and liars on Wall Street?!

It gets better: Mrs. Reed then informs us that because of abortion, there aren't enough people to take care of aging baby boomers.

Jesus wept....

Around 11:50 PM, Rep. Turner begins sparring with Allen Parker of the Justice Foundation, speaking for HB2. Turner finally brings up and brings home what any sane human should know: This fucking bill is unconstitutional, and if the Supreme Court ever looked at it, it would get shut down instantaneously. Which is what is going to have to happen, if this local level erosion of Roe v. Wade is ever to be stopped: The Supreme Court has to finally say, “Guys, you can't do that!” Which will start a battle over state's rights which can't help but get messy and despicable. It will be a blot on our nation's history that no one should look upon except in abject shame. (By the way, did I mention the Juggler For Christ tried to compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott as “another Supreme Court decision later thought to be bad?”)

After Rep. Turner spoke at 12:01 AM about how wrong it was that the panel was not hearing all 2,300 who signed up to speak, Rep. Cook called for a vote.

“What?!” said Rep. Turner. “You did not say we were going to vote tonight! I wanted to add 2 amendments to this bill!”

As UPI reported, “the House State Affairs Committee approved the measure 8-3, with two absences.”

Outside, all night long, the State Troopers had corralled all Orange people who wanted to protest and chant into a glassed-in area in the annex. They happily marched in circles and chanted all night. Walking outside, these folks were audibly pissed. This was louder and angrier than earlier. As I tried to get a closer look, a Trooper roughly informed me I had to leave the building. He followed me to the elevators.

“Why are you following me?” I asked.

“I'm gonna make sure you get on that elevator.”

“I don't need to be supervised and manhandled.”

“I'm gonna make sure you get on that elevator.”

Shit, Jodie Laubenberg's son must be a Trooper....

As I surfaced and walked the grounds towards the exit, several more Troopers arrived. Outside, Austin Police Department cruisers conspicuously patrolled the surrounding streets in unusual numbers for the area. Police choppers circled. I texted friends and my colleague for the service to get the hell out. Something ugly was brewing, and I didn't like it. My friends texted back that a Trooper car was dogging their car's tail.

In the words of WC Fields, “T'ain't a fit night for man nor beast....”


  1. Very much enjoyed reading this. Even though these people disgust me, you managed to make me laugh a few times. Thanks.

  2. Thank you, Amanda. I'm covering the Senate hearing now, and these people aren't as funny these week - not even the Juggler For Jesus! I did share an elevator with him, though. It was all I could do to stifle hearty guffaws.