A new e-mail to activists shows the religious right is narrowing even further its definition of a good Republican. An e-mail from the Houston Area Pastor Council on Monday demands that Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives base their vote for Speaker this month on three main issues: abortion, same-sex marriage and gambling:
“There is not one question that the platform of the Republican Party of Texas has been and is now unequivocally strong for protecting the lives of innocent, unborn children, the definition of marriage and the well being of our vulnerable citizens against predatory gambling. Given that those principles are among the foundational purposes of our constitutional republic, it is inconceivable that Texas would choose someone for the most powerful position in our state House who denies the very positions of his party on those issues.”
So the Legislature is facing a budget deficit of massive proportions, families are under pressure as the state’s unemployment rate continues to rise, and neighborhood schools are struggling to find the money to pay the bills and keep teachers employed. Yet groups like the Pastor Council insist that the most important thing for Republican legislators to do is focus on divisive social issues when they elect the next Texas House Speaker. Seriously? (And, by the way, when exactly did promoting those divisive issues get elevated to “foundational purposes of our constitutional republic”?)
It’s unclear at this point whether groups like the Pastor Council, Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute (the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) will succeed in toppling current Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. But we wonder what their intense bullying campaign might mean for Texas politics going forward. Indeed, Texans might soon discover that the most important distinction in the Legislature isn’t the R or D that follows a lawmaker’s name. The key division might instead be between the forces of intolerance and extremism and those who put the interests of working families ahead of divisive political agendas.
Note: Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka reports about Texas Eagle Forum’s latest effort to pressure Republicans legislators. TEF has announced that the vote for speaker will make up 50 percent of a House member’s rating on the organization’s legislative scorecard. Burka rolls his eyes:
“This is stupid. It just shows how crazy the far right is. The speaker’s race does not determine half the session. . . . [TEF President Pat] Carlson has let the cat out of the bag. What she and the rest of the far right care about is not passing conservative legislation. It’s getting a vote record that can be used to purge suspected RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] in the primary.”
Burka is right. We suspect more and more Republicans are growing tired of being jerked around by fanatics who put politics ahead of all other interests in Texas.
UPDATE: Now they’re getting really vicious. Texas Right to Life’s blog has published a statement from retired Catholic Bishop Rene Henry Gracida, who suggests that Catholic House members who vote to re-elect Straus as Speaker could be “committing a serious sin”:
“I cannot believe that any Catholic member of the Texas House of Representatives could with a clear conscience vote for the election of Joe Straus as Speaker. And if a Catholic member of the Texas House of Representatives cannot vote for Joe Straus with a CLEAR conscience, that member would be committing a serious sin by casting a vote for Joe Strauss [sic].”
This outrageous statement comes after weeks in which far-right activists have been calling for the replacement of Straus, who is Jewish, with a “Christian, conservative” speaker. Now we’re seeing faith once again used as a political weapon.
LATER UPDATE: TFN has received a helpful clarification from the Texas Catholic Conference, making clear that the active bishops of Texas have not taken any position on the House speaker race. Per a statement on the Texas Catholic Conference website:
The Texas Catholic Conference and the active Bishops of Texas are not taking a position on the Speaker’s election. We pray for all elected officials and look forward to working with the incoming members of the Texas Legislature.
It’s worth pointing out again that the incendiary quote above comes from a retired bishop — via a political pressure group — and does not represent the opinion of the active bishops of Texas.