Monday, June 16, 2014

Texas Talk--Part III

This is the next part of my report on the Texas Republican Convention, from June 5-7. Part I covered Ted Cruz’s speech (which maybe was a preliminary to running for president). Part II covered some of the other big speeches: Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Rand Paul. The theme of the speeches, put together, was to speak the conservative message—Constitutional freedom and prosperity—and speak it with a welcoming but bold clarity.
Now we’re covering some of the nitty-gritty business of the convention: the platform. The platform ought to be the bold, clear message those speeches suggested that we share. Hmm.
It’s going to take two more posts. Today gets us through what was actually debated—mainly concerning immigration. And part IV will cover the rest of the platform—most of which was not debated.
First, a little background on the making of the platform.
·        Step 1 is probably to start with what’s in the previous platform, instead of simply from scratch.

·        Step 2 happens at precinct caucus meetings. Individuals meet together, after the polls close on primary election day, and elect delegates to the next level convention and propose items for the platform. Those that the precinct supports get sent to the platform committee at the state senate district level.

·        Step 3: Proposals from the precinct are read, sorted, categorized, combined, and reworded by the platform committee, made up of precinct chair volunteers in the senate district. They do some of their work prior to the one-day district convention, and then they take public testimony at the convention.

·        Step 4: This committee presents its draft, and then the floor is opened up for debate. More proposals can be offered from the floor. Amendments can be offered. Depending on the size of the district (mine is maybe the biggest in the state, with multiple delegates from 700+ precincts), this can be unwieldy, but Roberts Rules of Order are in place to protect and frustrate the process.

·        Step 5: The draft of propositions from each senate district across the state (there are 31) get sent to the Temporary Platform and Resolutions Committee (TPARC) of the Republican Party of Texas. This committee of appointees starts meeting on Monday of state convention week, weeding through the 3000 or so resolutions. They go through the process of weeding through, combining similar statements, seeing what is widely believed across the state, and trying to come up with a draft platform.

·        Step 6: This drafting process includes dividing into several subcommittees, taking public testimony over two days, and then coming together with about 300 draft platform planks by Wednesday evening, followed by more public testimony Thursday morning.

·        Step 6: Senate districts caucus and elect permanent platform/resolutions committee representatives. Often this is a formality in which the appointed temporary platform person gets elected to the permanent committee. However, this year there were a number of temporary committee people who were replaced in their caucuses. More on that in a minute.

·        Step 7: The Permanent Platform and Resolutions Committee (PPARC) meets Thursday evening, after the district caucuses. They take additional brief public testimony. Then they vote on what goes into the platform.

·        Step 8: By Friday afternoon the Report of the Permanent Platform Committee is printed and provided to the full body of delegates. Amendments to this platform can be submitted, in writing, up to 6:00 PM Friday. There were some 200 such amendments filed.

·        Step 9: On Saturday, the final business of the convention is to debate and vote on the final platform. This is an open floor debate with some 7000 or so opinionated people, discussing their various views. Roberts Rules of Order are followed, with a parliamentarian helping the state party chair keep the chaos to a minimum.
So it is this final step we’re looking at.
In that Thursday evening debate, with a significant change in the makeup of the PPARC from the TPARC, a couple of issues came to the top: medical marijuana and immigration. These became minority reports in the report. A minority report is a suggested amendment, signed by at least 7 members of the permanent committee, filed immediately after the close of the committee meeting—and they get handled as amendments prior to other amendments handled from the floor.
In the floor debate, the two minority reports related to medical marijuana were handled first, because they were simplest.
One was to include this language: “We believe that Texans should have legal access to medical cannabis as a controlled narcotic prescribed by a physician.” There was respectful testimony, from physicians and others, on both sides. Some on the “pro” side tried to convince the body that this referred not to cannabis in the form that can be smoked, but only to essential oil forms, which can be used for children suffering from seizures. Touching—but the wording is not limiting; it is open to pretty much any “physician’s” definition of medical use—which has led to a lot of abuse in states where it has been tried. The body rejected this.
The other minority report (suggested amendment) concerned studies of cannabis. The minority suggested removing this line from the platform: “We urge the Texas Legislature to allow, encourage, and facilitate the study at our Texas medical schools the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis.” Now, this is in a plank related to allowing citizens to choose their nutritional products and alternative health care choices. The rest of the plank allows freedom to choose. But this wording isn’t simply the typical libertarian “allow choice to use drugs” plank; it is putting the power of the Texas legislature into the business of encouraging and facilitating (i.e., provide funding for) these studies of a specific substance—that has been studied out the wazoo already elsewhere, so there’s plenty of testimony without further funding. Nor is there a prohibition of studies if the Texas legislature doesn’t get behind them.
The body agreed to remove this phrase. But this was a closer vote, and people next to each other could respectfully disagree. There was some perception that it was a good thing to just “be” in favor of research.
I have to say, this is the first year I have sensed anything like a significant presence in favor of medical (or recreational) marijuana. There’s a larger libertarian presence in the GOP than there used to be. On some things, that’s good, but on vice, including mind-altering “recreational” drug use, it’s a bad thing. [See "Why I’m Not Quite a Libertarian"  and "Libertarians on the Sphere"].
Mark Ramsey
The other minority report concerned immigration. Mark Ramsey, my district’s temporary and permanent resolutions committee representative, explains:
By far the most controversial topic was what to do with the immigration plank that in 2012 was consolidated into a single comprehensive one called “The Texas Solution” by its supporters (2012TS). By the time the full TPARC met Wednesday, it was already unrecognizable compared to 2012. MAJOR changes had been made to it, undoubtedly influenced by the huge popularity and recent election landslide mandate by Sen. Dan Patrick in the race for Lt. Governor.
Major differences in the immigration planks’ details include whether the border is secured “first,” who determines that it is secure (states or federal government), and whether any visa or guest worker program must wait until the border is secured. Other variables include insisting applicants speak English, preventing visa applicants from obtaining public assistance, specifying those here illegally cannot participate in legalization (visa/citizenship/etc.), whether to address “mass deportation,” penalties and back taxes, and building a fence.
The minority report failed in committee in a 15-15 vote (the committee chair, by tradition, does not vote, and a tie is a fail). Unfortunately, the full Immigration plank and the full Minority Report are both too long to include here, so I’ll just summarize as best I can.
The platform plank has three paragraphs of introduction. Then it has sections on securing our borders first (with details of how), opposing amnesty, opposing mass deportation, modernizing immigrations laws (with some probably too detailed suggestions), and a provisional visa program.
The minority report claims it is taking its language from Dan Patrick’s website—but it did not coordinate with, nor get permission or approval from the senator, and there may be disagreements in content and intent. It covers increasing border security, ending in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, enhancing smuggling laws, prohibiting sanctuary cities, prohibiting employment of illegals, providing landowners with civil liability protections, and protecting law enforcement officers when they inquire concerning legal status of someone in custody.
Then it suggests various details ways to modernize current immigration laws.
Here’s the situation: immigration is in part a PR problem for the party. We agree we need to secure the border and enforce current immigration laws before anything else is even worth doing. And we agree that we approve of LEGAL immigration, and encourage that in many positive ways. But the perception is that, if you don’t handle “comprehensive reform,” regardless of the numerous failures of government regarding the border, then you get called “anti-immigrant.”
I took this photo from a distance; it seemed so
quintessentially Texan. I learned later this citizen is
Jack Finger from San Antonio.
Nationally, GOP leadership has dabbled in the idea that pushing for “comprehensive reform” (i.e., making a path for citizenship for illegals already here, while doing nothing about the porous border) would get us more Hispanic voters; if you want to see how that is going over, take a look at the recent loss by Eric Cantor.
Anyway, there’s probably a 60/40 split between those who want border security before any discussion of anything else (the 60%) and those who say we must be realistic about dealing with the long-term illegals already here.
Mark Ramsey, recognizing the considerable size of both sides, suggested an amendment to the original platform, which might preclude the need for the minority report. He suggested changing the “Provisional Visa Program” part of the immigration plank thus:
In order to deal with the current undocumented population, only after the borders are secured and verified by the states, we urge Congress to enact establish a provisional visa program with a term of five years that does not provide amnesty, does not cause mass deportation and does not provide a pathway to citizenship but does not preclude existing pathways.
The purpose was to put in a trigger, forcing the border to be secure before the other issues could be dealt with. The Ramsey Amendment, as it came to be called, passed.
But then we went back to the minority report, in the form of another amendment, including much but not all of the minority report. This amendment, if passed, would replace the full immigration plank, including the Ramsey Amendment.
There was a fair amount of debate. But debate was frequently—too frequently—interrupted by questions such as “So, if the minority report passes, it means the immigration plank, including the Ramsey Amendment, is replaced, and no more amendments can be put forward on immigration?” Answer: yes. Then another person would interrupt with practically the same question. Eventually the minority report passed.
So, the immigration plank is more hard-nosed than the body of Texas delegates would actually feel. Nevertheless, the message that border security must be accomplished—and verified by Texas—before anything else happens is the clear, bold message that we mostly agree on.
Is there an anti-immigration sentiment in Texas? No. But there is no longer any patience with the federal government ignoring laws and dumping the results of lawlessness on our state. And we believe, if spoken clearly and boldly, Hispanic Texans will agree with us. Because there aren’t Hispanic Texans and regular Texans—there are just Texans.
Then there’s the rest of the platform. We'll finish that in part IV.

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