The general perception of Texas as reliably conservative is accurate: its rural and suburban areas are overwhelmingly red, and currently ensure a conservative policy direction at the statewide level. But enclaves within the Lone Star State, centered around Texas’s rapidly growing major cities, and composed of progressive elected officials, the statewide press corps, the higher-education establishment, and the state’s influential K-12 school districts, represent a liberal movement that, if allowed to thrive, could undermine the Texas Model—the sound limited-government philosophy that has fueled the state’s enviable prosperity.
In Austin—the state capital—the city council recently voted ten-to-one to grant $200,000 in emergency funding to provide legal assistance to illegal immigrants. The one council member who spoke out against the measure, Ellen Troxclair, was accused of racism and admonished by her colleague Sabino Renteria: “We opened our arms to the Europeans when they came into Texas and Mexico.” The area surrounding Austin, Travis County, is also dominated by liberal officials. For example, despite the objections of Texas governor Greg Abbott, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez recently announced that she will no longer honor immigration detainers requested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), except in limited circumstances involving capital murder or aggravated sexual assault, effectively making Travis County a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Not to be outdone, a union representing teachers at the Austin Independent School District distributed a bilingual flier to its 3,000 members entitled “What to Do if ICE Comes to Your Door,” and the AISD board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution supporting “undocumented students.”
In December, a nurse’s aide at a Killeen ISD middle school had to go to court to be allowed to display on her office door a decorative poster based on the animated classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. More recently, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a measured letter to Frisco ISD in response to published reports that a high school had established a “prayer room” for the exclusive use of Muslim students; Paxton’s letter reminded the school administrator that any such room must be open to students of all faiths. The school superintendent fired back an intemperate reply, accusing the A.G. of engaging in a “publicity stunt” and using “inflammatory rhetoric” that might place the “community in danger of unnecessary disruption.” The press disingenuously reported the incident as an effort by Paxton to bar Muslim students from praying, contrasting his supposed position with his past defense of Christian prayers.
Political correctness abounds at the state’s leading universities. In March, the University of Texas at Austin—the flagship campus of the state system—adopted a new policy on “Hate and Bias Incidents” that contains, among other restrictions, broad prohibitions on subjectively offensive speech (euphemistically termed “verbal harassment”) if it is based “on the victim’s appearance, personal characteristics, or group membership, including but not limited to, race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or gender expression, age, disability, citizenship, veteran status, sexual orientation, ideology, political views, or political affiliation.” The policy defines virtually anything that could offend a student’s sensibilities as “hate speech.” The university’s vice president for diversity and community “strongly encourages” students to report incidents of harassment or discrimination—including “derogatory graffiti” or any student group that hosts a party with an objectionable theme—to the Campus Climate Response Team for investigation by the university’s diversity officials. The Austin American-Statesman swooned over UT’s enlightened approach, which it described as “more clearly and forcefully declar[ing] its condemnation and prohibition of certain acts of intolerance, hate or bias.”
Later in March, UT-Austin released a sensational “rape survey,” purporting to conclude—based on an anonymous online survey with fewer than 8,000 responses and a paltry 17.1 percent participation rate— that 15 percent of all female undergraduates at UT (as well as 5 percent of male undergraduates) had been raped since their enrollment. Buried at the end of the $1.7 million report is the revelation that the term “rape” was defined in the survey to mean—in addition to nonconsensual sex perpetrated by force, threats of harm, or incapacitation—sex acts induced by someone “telling lies, threatening to end the relationship, threatening to spread rumors about you, making promises you knew were untrue . . . verbally pressuring you . . . showing displeasure, criticizing your sexuality or attractiveness, [and] getting angry after you said you didn’t want to.” In other words, not rape by any accepted legal definition of the term. The survey’s expansive definition of rape helps explain why only 2 percent of the ostensible victims reported their rapes to the police.
The press corps—in Texas and elsewhere—breathlessly reported on UT’s “epidemic” of sexual assault, without noting that 87 percent of the incidents occurred off-campus, and that 69 percent of the “victims” were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time. Unlike the actual rape scandal at Baylor University, the situation at UT is fairly typical of college campuses nationwide: immature young people with a surfeit of time and money partying too much. Students who regret drunken hookups the next day aren’t rape victims, and conflating the exercise of poor judgment with forcible rape trivializes the heinous crime when it does occur—on or off college campuses.
In a recent student government election at Texas A&M, the top vote-getter for student body president was disqualified for failing to report as a campaign expense a few inexpensive glow sticks that briefly appeared as a prop in a campaign video, and the second-place finisher—an openly gay junior—was declared the winner, even though he lost by more than 700 votes out of 14,000 cast. The controversy attracted the attention of former Texas governor Rick Perry, an A&M alumnus, who wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle protesting the election as “stolen,” and suggesting that the “quest for ‘diversity’ is the real reason the election outcome was overturned.” Perry got pilloried in the media for questioning the election of the first openly gay student body president.
These incidents, viewed in isolation, may seem minor, but they don’t occur in isolation. They are part of an inexorable process through which Texas’s conservative statewide majority is being undercut by left-leaning cities and local governments. Governor Greg Abbott has previously warned that untrammeled and piecemeal regulation by Texas’s Democrat-controlled cities would “California-ize” the Lone Star State, and he is pushing to maintain state supremacy over local authorities, noting that “the country is not called the ‘United States of Municipalities.’”
If Texas’s distinctive culture and thriving economy are to endure, the part-time Texas legislature must come to grips with the fact that a progressive vanguard is intent upon undermining the state’s conservative core. Texas liberals—out of power for several decades—are highly motivated to effect change, with increased taxes, regulation, and spending. Moreover, liberals dominate the major newspapers in Texas, control the University of Texas administration, and exert enormous influence over school districts seeking expanded state funding. Their weapons are identity politics, multiculturalism, and political correctness. Texas’s conservative leaders must forcefully resist these corrosive factions.
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