Friday, June 29, 2018

Platform and Minority Report, Part IV

This is part IV, the final part, of our discussion of the Platform and Minority Report, from the Texas State Republican Convention. Here are the subjects in order:

·         Part I: Cannabis 
·         Part III: School Choice
·         Part IV: The Minority Report

The Minority Report

We mentioned the idea of minority reports the other day. That was about the Nominations Committee, which took up a lot of time on Friday afternoon of the convention.

A minority report isn’t all that rare on the Platform Committee. But usually it is related to a particular issue. Maybe a single plank. If I’m remembering right, a few years ago there was a push for outright legalizing marijuana, which failed, but there was a minority report on that issue. That meant that a sizable number disagreed with the committee’s decision, so they brought their alternative up to the main body at the convention. (It usually fails there, as it did that time.)

The minority report this year was different in many ways. Its intent wasn’t on a single issue; it was aimed at the size of the platform. The premise is that it should be shorter.

I’ve thought that before as well. I really like the Preamble and Principles on the first page of the platform. Isn’t that enough?

If you’re looking at the basics that we almost entirely agree on, then that’s a good platform. But I’ve learned, over the past few years, working on the district platform committee, and now behind the scenes at the state level, that the platform really is used to advance legislation, particularly in the state legislature. Sometimes that has to be specific.

And there are people who come to the convention—are active politically in the first place—because of a particular issue that is very important to them. Without that issue, they’ll let someone else do the activist work.

So there are a lot of platform planks: 332 this year (including the preamble and principles, which are also numbered as planks). That’s more than in past years. However, some previous planks were split into multiple planks. The platform isn’t really a lot more issues—or words—than previous years. There are between 3,000 and 6,000 bills proposed in a legislative session. Only a portion of our planks, maybe 250, will be used to direct them. So maybe we don’t have too many.

But there’s an understandable fear that we can’t all agree on the whole platform.

However, that fear has been addressed. In 2016 we started having a plank-by-plank vote to accept or reject, which we did again this time. That shows stronger agreement or lesser agreement, and it’s clear we don’t all agree on every issue. (I voted against maybe half a dozen. None got voted down by a majority.)

We try to hold our representatives accountable to the platform. But they aren’t required to agree on every plank any more than we are. They are required to vote in accordance with the Preamble and Principles. Failure to do so multiple times can bring sanctions against them (which is what happened with the one resolution at the end of the platform this year).

Also, the new arrangement into categories related to the state senate, and the section-by-section debate, allowed us to cover more issues more fully in the whole body of delegates at the convention. To do that, we had the latest version available online all week, and the printed version a day earlier than previous years.

One of the common conversations after plank-by-plank voting was, “I guess I need to read it and make my choices ahead of time.” Yes. That’s the idea. The debate before the body is not the time to learn what’s in it—which has been practice in the past, and very frustrating. Now it’s on the delegate to do some preparation. That’s better all around.

Would shorter be better? Maybe. But every plank was supported by someone. And in the past those urging for a shorter platform did it as a maneuver to avoid accountability on specific issues. The less specific, the more wiggle room a politician has. However, I don’t believe that was the intent of this year’s Minority Report signers. Anyway, if it’s going to be shorter, that should happen through the natural debate process.

View from my computer, shortly before
the Permanent Platform Committee convenes

The Minority Report signers had their own version. Much of it was taken from our platform—even a last-minute title. And then there are some things that were their own. It was still 81 planks long, which is ironically not all that short. The preface and preamble were different. The principles, as a section, are missing. Then come 15 categories of issues (more like former platforms, rather than our current legislature-oriented categories), followed by action items in 22 categories. Individual planks under the category headings do not have titles.

 It was written mainly by one committee member. He shared it with other committee members that he thought might side with him, but he never shared it with the whole committee.

Let me repeat that: he never shared it with the whole committee. Debate was complete. Our platform was accepted by the Permanent Committee. And then he asked to reopen debate to present his minority report. The parliamentarian probably should have squelched it at that moment; instead, he asked the indulgence of the chair to allow it, in order to avoid more parliamentary difficulty during floor debate.

The committee hadn’t seen it, hadn’t discussed it. There was no public testimony concerning it. The author, pretty much single-handedly, decided what to keep and what to toss, and what to do differently.

It turned out that three of the signers were also elected as SREC committeemen/women (State Republican Executive Committee, a man and woman from each senatorial district in the state), which disqualified them. This came out during floor debate. I didn’t understand the technicality that led to that decision. I guess they hadn’t understood it either, or they wouldn’t have signed. Anyway, without their signatures, there weren’t enough signers for a minority report, and it was withdrawn.

The author did get his allotted few minutes to present his reasons for wanting a shorter platform, which plants the idea for another year. That may be all he wanted.

The point of all this discussion about the platform—and about the convention entirely—is to show just how grassroots the party is here in Texas. I think that’s the way it should be.

We’ll have just one more post about the convention, which is a big more nationally relevant. I’d like to share some of Senator Ted Cruz’s speech. So that will come next.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Platform and Minority Report, Part III

This is part III of our discussion of the Platform and Minority Report, from the Texas State Republican Convention. There will be four parts total. Here are the subjects in order:

·         Part I: Cannabis 
·         Part III: School Choice
·         Part IV: The Minority Report

School Choice

You would think that school choice would be an area of wide agreement for Republicans, but the “belief in public schools,” as though that were a religion, in American society as a whole, runs deep. There’s been a steady campaign for about a century equating public schooling to caring for our children. So that attitude is part of the debate.

But there’s another segment that’s kind of surprising: a homeschooling schism. There’s the side that looks for more choice, more alternatives, and more free market—not just for homeschoolers, but for everyone. And there’s the side that is afraid that any movement away from total hands off by government is a slippery slope from total freedom for homeschoolers directly to government reaching out and controlling homeschoolers.
We hung out at the convention with some really smart
 young freedom loving Texans (our grandkids).

I’m on the freedom to choose side of this issue. I believe the other side is needlessly fearful. And their refusal to consider any possibilities means they are refusing to allow choice for public schoolers stuck in failing schools as well.

A friend of mine said, “You homeschoolers just need to find a few of you, on both sides, that are reasonable, and sit down in a room and talk this through.” In theory I think that is what’s needed. In reality, the leaders of the no choice people side with HSLDA, a national legal defense organization. The pro-choice people side with Tim Lambert of THSC (Texas Home School Coalition). National leaders aren’t really present in Texas to have such a debate.

There are some truly innovative ideas. Education Savings Accounts are one that came before the legislature last year, but failed to pass. The year before, the Heritage Foundation came to Houston to present the idea and talk with a large roomful of us. Right away I caught the value of injecting some free-market into education. [I first wrote about this here, but also here and here.] During conversations I asked one of their people whether they’d made contact with Tim Lambert yet. She wasn’t as yet aware of him, so I sent her to him. I’m sure they’d have found him without me, but he did get on board.

Free market always leads to better quality at lower prices. When our schools are failing with lower quality for higher prices, it seems to me that is a natural solution.

Debate was intense, but this is the plank that finally made it in:

School Options: Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.

It will do for our purposes, as long as we can get the legislature to actually put through some real choices.

There was another plank of interest to homeschoolers:

Extracurricular Opportunities: We encourage nonpublic school parents to create extracurricular opportunities for their children where they are not readily available and in a manner that they can be free from discriminatory testing, intrusive government oversight, or harmful school policies regarding mixed-gender students in bathrooms and locker rooms. We encourage the Legislature to find ways to allow nonpublic school students’ participation.[i] Any homeschool student that does not participate will be unaffected.  

The footnote there refers to an idea that was accidentally deleted. The last sentence should read:

We encourage the Legislature to find ways to allow nonpublic school students’ UIL participation.

I believe the accidental deletion happened when the Google system, which was livestreaming both the video but also the document, shut down late Wednesday evening, causing the staffer who was manning the computer at that time to have to take handwritten notes on the last few decisions. I wasn’t on duty, but it was a regrettable error, but difficult to have avoided.

It was noticed by a committee member before the Permanent Committee met. He offered to propose it as an amendment. But it had been heated enough that, when given the opportunity to leave it out, the committee did.

Tim Lambert wrote about this part of the platform debate here. And he includes one brief testimony that I thought was convincing, which I’ll include below.

There were several legislative sessions while we were still homeschooling, and several since, that we’ve worked for this. UIL was instituted when the vast majority of Texas students were homeschooled, and most of those that weren’t were private schooled. This was, I think, 1913, before public schools became a monopoly. In the 1960s UIL decided to exclude anyone not in public schools—against the original charter. Recently one or two large private schools were allowed to participate. The world didn’t fall down, it should be noted.

During testimony some people from west Texas pointed out that, sometimes communities aren’t big enough to have any extracurricular activities outside of schools. They can’t start their own leagues, or join in private community extracurricular opportunities. There are none.

Public schools claim to fear that non-public schoolers could spend more time on the skills needed for extracurricular activities, since they’re not constrained by school hours. There’s no evidence for that. Basketball teams, for example, have won competitions with just a couple of practices and a game a week, rather than the daily practice public school teams get.

It’s claimed they draw from a wider area, which is true, but they do not draw from a larger number of students.

Public schools have even been offered to receive a full day attendance allotment for a student there only for an hour, and yet they refuse. This isn’t true in all states. Thirty-four other states have worked out ways to allow UIL participation (and none of those states have increased regulations over homeschooling as a result, refuting the argument of the fearful homeschoolers). But Texas public schools like having a stranglehold on any power and money they can. And they prefer forcing non-public schoolers to not only pay their own way, but to subsidize public schools while they’re doing it.

Here's the truth: If it’s beyond the proper role of government, there will be unintended consequences, and they will likely be exactly the opposite of the state goal.

So, if you want to educate children, and you want lower costs and higher quality, government schools are not the way to go. Inject the free market. Offer choice. Encourage homeschooling, and online innovations, and any other creative way of learning. It doesn’t have to be like this.

But right now, even conservatives can’t seem to stick a toe in the water of choice to make it happen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Platform and Minority Report, Part II

This is part II of our discussion of the Platform and Minority Report, from the Texas State Republican Convention. There will be four parts total (I’m doing them on consecutive days. So, part I was yesterday. Here are the subjects in order:

·         Part I: Cannabis 
·         Part II: Marriage, Homosexuality, and Other LGBTQ Issues
·         Part III: School Choice
·         Part IV: The Minority Report

Marriage, Homosexuality, and other LGBTQ Issues

Another issue that occupied a lot of testimony time at the convention was homosexuality. Those issues ended up mainly in State Affairs. The main concern, since the Obergefell ruling, is about religious freedom, balancing that with tolerance. The 2016 plank said this:

Homosexuality: Homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible, recognized by our nation’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.  We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin.  We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.  
There was a rewrite, hotly debated, that lasted until a compromise, late Thursday evening, which became acceptable to all, containing many of these same ideas (I’ve highlighted in both where the words are identical):

Homosexual Behavior: We affirm God’s biblical design for marriage and sexual behavior between one biological man and one biological woman, which has proven to be the foundation for all great nations in Western civilization. We oppose homosexual marriage, regardless of state of origin. We urge the Texas Legislature to pass religious liberty protections for individuals, businesses, and government officials who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. We oppose the granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

The changes take a bit of concentration to discern. While God and Bible are cited in both, the new plank is more about affirming marriage, rather than condemning the sinfulness of homosexuality, which may make it less controversial while still concentrating on what we want to accomplish: protect marriage, and protect religion freedom. I like the connection of marriage to civilization; that's part of the Spherical Model formula for civilization.

That's us, in front of the Civilization wall
in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

The testimony against the plank was mainly of the variety that homosexuality ought to be seen as just another acceptable lifestyle choice. That is definitely not the view of the Republican Party of Texas. It is gaining ground with younger people, mainly because of the indoctrination from media and academia—along with their inherent (but maybe not obvious) anti-religious bias.

During testimony during the Permanent Platform Committee, on Thursday afternoon/evening of the convention, there was a particular pro-homosexuality witness who was called back for a question by an older woman on the committee. The witness was flippant. The committee member took offense at that. And there was a rather unpleasant interchange that got terminated as not really questioning the witness, so it should be saved for committee discussion later.

Over time, it’s been my observation that Log Cabin Republicans, who agree with Republicans on 90% of issues, and just diverge on these particular social issues, have generally been good members of the party, agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable. I hope that attitude can continue.

There were several other planks that are related more specifically to defense of marriage—which is the appropriate way to look at the position of Republicans generally. It is not about hate; it is about preserving marriage in order to preserve civilization. Here are some of the additional planks:

Definition of Marriage: We support the definition of marriage as a God-ordained, legal, and moral commitment only between one natural man and one natural woman.
State Authority over Marriage: We support withholding jurisdiction from the federal courts in cases involving family law, especially any changes in the definition of marriage.
Spousal Benefits: We shall not recognize or grant to any unmarried person the legal rights or status of a spouse, including granting benefits by political subdivisions.
No-Fault Divorce: We urge the Legislature to rescind no-fault divorce laws and support covenant marriage.
Overturn Unconstitutional Ruling: We believe this decision, overturning the Texas law prohibiting same-sex marriage in Texas, has no basis in the Constitution and should be reversed, returning jurisdiction over the definition of marriage to the states. The Governor and other elected officials of the State of Texas should assert our Tenth Amendment right and reject the Supreme Court ruling.

There are additional LGBTQ issues, mainly related to transgender indoctrination:

Gender Identity Facilities in Businesses: We support enacting legislation in the State of Texas ensuring that no government entity in the state be allowed to take it upon itself to define for any private business or private entity how it must segregate its restrooms, changing facilities, or showers; nor may any government agency be allowed to require businesses to profess, espouse, or adopt specific views on sex, sexuality, gender, or gender identity, other than to guarantee that views and positions on these matters are not used as a basis to deny access to public accommodations, as defined by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nor to deny employment, or discriminate in employment decisions, solely on the basis of a person’s views on these matters.
Child Rights: We call on the Texas Legislature to pass legislation to protect privacy in public schools and government buildings as allowed by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, by ensuring that multi-use facilities, including showers, changing rooms, and bathrooms, are designated for and used only by persons based on the person’s biological sex.
No Sexuality Indoctrination: We call on the State Legislature to pass legislation so that no public school or other educational institution may force, require, or pressure any child or student to profess, espouse, or adopt, or otherwise be indoctrinated without explicit parental consent, specific views on sex, sexuality, gender, or gender identity.
Gender Identity Pronouns: We oppose any attempt to criminalize and/or penalize anyone for the wrong use of pronouns.

The opposition will call these hateful. But we resist nonetheless. Because, while we’re quite willing to be tolerant, we’re not willing to give up our freedom, privacy, safety, or beliefs just to avoid being called hateful, homophobic, and bigoted. And we all know they’ll call us that regardless of reality, so it’s just better, always, to stand for truth.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Platform and Minority Report, Part I

The debrief from the Texas State Republican Convention continues. Today we’re finally getting to the platform, which is where I spent my many hours. In fact, I was still doing final edits late this past Wednesday night. The final version was published online Thursday—almost immediately after which I noticed a missing period. Sigh.

Anyway, the ideas and discussions surrounding the platform are what is interesting.

I’ll be covering some of the bigger issues—at least the ones that got my attention and seemed to have a lot of public interest—in four parts. Today we’ll look at cannabis. (Yes, this is the Republican Party. Have patience and read on.) Then we’ll handle these other issues, in three subsequent posts (all this week):

·         School Choice
·         The Minority Report      


I manned the computer in the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, which took testimony for an hour and a half—plus as issues came up during all of Monday afternoon and evening. Still, one testifier took the subcommittee to task for not being willing to take enough testimony. You can’t win. But it was, indeed, a lot of public testimony.

One of the issues that took a great deal of time was medical marijuana. It wasn’t really about what you think, and it didn’t go the way I would have expected. I learned a lot. The first to testify was to warn against the slippery slope, and included a handout of information related to the dangers of marijuana. That was kind of what I expected, and accurate as far as recreational use goes.
But there was a plank in the 2016 platform that said this:

Compassionate Use Act: We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.
Most of the testimony urged keeping this plank, with a couple of minor changes. “Prescribed patients,” they said, was an inaccurate description of what they do.
cannabis, image from here

There are currently a very few, strictly limited uses of extracted oils. I can’t reproduce the testimony accurately. But there are non-psychotropic oils, such as cannabidiol, I believe, that have uses for certain intractable epilepsy. Some people believe it should be up to doctors to determine whether that use should be broadened to a wider range of epilepsy patients.

And there was touching testimony related to psychotropic oil THC (tetrahydrocannbinol) derived from cannabis that has offered remarkable help, legally, to certain types of autism and other mental illnesses—already treated unsuccessfully by other psychotropic drugs.

One problem is that cannabis (marijuana) is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it is declared to have no possible positive uses. That means it’s always illegal, and even doing research is difficult or illegal. I don’t fully understand this, because oils such as marinol (synthetic THC) have been known, and used, for several decades. And uses continue to be found. So research is being done somewhere. But maybe not in Texas. The schedule classification is a federal responsibility. Yet pressure from states, along with testimony such as we heard, can bring about change there.

Anyway, our non-binding platform ended up containing two planks related to use of cannabis for medical and research purposes. No one testified in favor of its recreational use. Here are the two planks:

Compassionate Use Act: We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients.

Cannabis Classification: Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and move to Schedule 2.

In the Criminal and Civil Justice Subcommittee, and then in final discussions involving the whole committee, there was debate about possession of small amounts of cannabis, with the plank finally making it a civil offense with a fine, rather than a criminal offense, to possess one ounce or less.

Civil Penalty: We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time.

I disagreed with this plank. The argument is that you shouldn’t be filling up prisons with nonviolent offenders, such as minor drug users. But this is not the case. The data presented included all nonviolent offenders—grand theft auto, embezzlement, drunk driving, etc., and lumping in minor drug offenses in with them to make it seem like we’re wasting our time on unnecessary prosecutions. But this is disingenuous.

The Harris County DA, Democrat Kim Ogg, got voted in with this at the top of her agenda. It has been wreaking havoc. It’s very rare to have a first time offender jailed. But this policy takes away bargaining power from prosecutors on subsequent offenses. Also, you would put police in a bad position, trying to guess whether the amount possessed is 1.1 ounces, rather than .99 ounces—because, if they’re wrong, they open up the police department to false arrest lawsuits.

The plank-by-plank voting had 1431 votes against, about 19%, which was higher disapproval than all but a few other planks.

It’s good that the platform is just a beginning point. Legislation has to follow, and that is another opportunity for testimony and debate. So maybe we can prevent movement in this unfortunate direction.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Politics of People, Ideas, and Minority Reports

I mentioned the other day that I prefer talking about ideas, and persuading people toward ideas, much more than persuading people toward people or groups of people—which is what people usually think of as politics.

There were some examples from last week’s Republican Party of Texas Convention in San Antonio.
There was a vote for the state party chair. A year ago James Dickey was appointed to replace the previous chair midterm, voted in by the SREC Committee (two representatives from each of the 31 state senatorial districts). He’s been big on transparency, to involve the grassroots. And his fundraising has gone fairly well too.

It’s an important year. After the US president is elected, the midterm election tends to lose seats in that party. We don’t want that to happen. Here in Harris County, despite the Republican win for president and every statewide race, the Democrats swept Harris County. That means every judge position that was on the ballot, the county tax assessor, the DA—all went Democrat. This election, all those positions that weren’t on the ballot in 2016 are on the ballot this time. With very few exceptions, that would mean judges who make law from the bench, build up a tremendous backlog of cases, and more voter fraud. Not good.

We’re doing what we can here in Harris County. But having a statewide party that runs well is important. We really would prefer to reclaim some of those losses, rather than have more. Life is just better that way—economically and socially.

The campaign literature was piling up.
So the question was, is James Dickey doing well enough? I thought so, but I was willing to hear from the challenger, Cindy Asche. I was unable to attend a forum where they both presented their views and took questions. But I watched two of those forums online. Asche seemed to be saying, “Sure, the numbers look like we’re breaking records, but they should be better.” That’s not a great argument for change. And then, when that didn’t work, “He’s the most corrupt we’ve ever seen,” without any evidence that I could take seriously. He quoted a data point wrong at one point, and then corrected it publicly as soon as he became aware of it.

So I had decided on Dickey before the convention. It helped that he and Alma Jackson, candidate for Vice-Chair, came and met us personally at our Tea Party meeting the Saturday before the convention. But, with as much advertising as there was, especially on Asche’s part, I couldn’t tell how close the race was going to be.

The caucus vote took place Friday morning. Each senatorial district held a vote, and then the Committee representative took that weighted result (based on size of the delegation, rather than single votes—SD 7, where I live, is I believe the biggest delegation in the state) to a committee meeting, where they tallied everything and presented a report to the body later that day.

This is a somewhat indirect process. The Nominations Committee Report tells what the caucuses voted, which is a recommendation. That means their recommended person’s name is automatically nominated on the floor for the whole body of delegates to approve. And the floor is open to any other nomination (depending on who met certain paperwork criteria by a set time). Because Cindy Asche was already running, she was eligible to be nominated from the floor.

That happened—but not until after a minority report form the Nominations Committee. A minimum of 9 of the 31 senatorial districts’ representatives is required to sign a minority report, which signifies that a significant minority felt different from the majority.

The weighted vote was shown on the big screen.
But, remember, the report was just what was recommended. It’s just a tally—which was, by the way, around 66% for Dickey and 34% for Asche, so not a close race. Anyway, to sign a minority report to the Nominations Committee Report means, essentially, that this minority feels strongly that the report is wrong—as in counted in error, or fraudulent. Of course they didn’t make that claim; they just wanted to say a significant minority had a different preference. So they really had no business making a minority report.

So there were objections on the floor. And then there was vote after vote on procedural issues. The acting chair for this set of procedures was Amy Clark, State Party Vice-Chair (up until the convention—she wasn’t running for reelection). There was a voice vote that appeared pretty clearly to me to go to the nays. But, if it isn’t clear on a voice vote, the Vice-chair has the prerogative of requesting an actual count—a paper vote handed in and counted.

She did this to avoid any appearance of preferential treatment for Chairman Dickey. But this was objected to, with a series of procedural things that failed. The objections took more time than simply taking the yea/nay vote by silent ballot would have taken.

During the shenanigans, someone yielded her time to another older woman who announced she was stepping down from her position as an accountant, which was clearly out of order and was halted immediately. But that was weird.

Then one signer of the minority report offered to remove his signature from the report, if it could be guaranteed that Asche’s name could be put into nomination from the floor—without his signature, there would be too few signatures, so it was a withdrawal of the minority report. That wasn’t actually a deal; her name could always have been placed into nomination from the floor. But people were glad to have the minority report taken off the table.

Eventually the two candidates got, I think it was 5 minutes each, to talk. When James Dickey came on stage, a large number of state representatives stood on stage behind him, backing him up. And his speech was upbeat and called attention to the good things underway.

Asche came up alone, and angry, and said, even though she’d been accused of mudslinging, etc., this was really about… after which came more mudslinging. She brought up the accountant who stepped down. She claimed that this woman thought Chairman Dickey was the most corrupt she’d ever worked with. The proof? He wanted the data in Excel, a spreadsheet, rather than a PDF format. She claimed this meant he could change the data at will.

But it would not change the report as sent in. That would be time stamped. There would be the original report, and copes would be made for working with. Chairman Dickey actually uses Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc., which automatically back up—and you can go back to each and every version. So, really all he was asking for was a format that would make the data more usable than in a PDF. He wouldn’t have to have staff retype the data into a spreadsheet, possibly incorporating typos. And that was the essence of Asche’s accusation. In other words, the older accountant woman had issues with modern technology, and I suspect she was taken advantage of.

Chairman Dickey handling convention
business the day after his reelection
So Asche used a full four hours of 8000+ people—time that had been intended for the Rules Committee Report and the beginning of platform debate. She thought her five minutes of accusation—following many weeks of campaigning and after all those hours of parliamentary procedure pain—would be enough to sway more than 16% of the voters to change their caucus-cast vote from Dickey to Asche.

It turned out she lost votes, even in districts she had carried. As a certain spouse of mine quipped, the delegates “kicked her in the Asche.”

The more we saw of her. The less we liked her. If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that we don’t want someone like her leading the party.

So what was that all about? Just extreme narcissism on her part? Probably partly that. But it was also a fight between the grassroots, transparent approach that Dickey has been championing and the older party boss type of GOP, as it was when Asche’s father, Bill Crocker, had been our national committeeman, in the early 2000s. There are some people who would rather have a party elite lead the party, rather than go the way of the grassroots. They didn’t say that outright in their campaigning, because of course that would fail. So they had to make other claims. But they just didn’t have much going for them.

So Friday afternoon at the convention was pretty much wasted on some unnecessary people politics.
I’d like to contrast that with the debates we had on the platform, which were about ideas rather than people. Some of the more heated topics were medical marijuana, school choice, and homosexuality along with what have become related First Amendment freedoms. And another minority report.

As with that Asche floor debate, this has already taken too long. So we’ll do the platform discussion as a part II another day.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Grassroots and Rules

I’m back. I spent all of last week in San Antonio, at the Republican Party of Texas convention. The main convention was Thursday through Saturday, but temporary committees handle much of the business—of rules, credentials, platform, and legislative priorities—before the body convenes. I had a behind-the-scenes assignment with the Platform and Resolutions Committee, editing and getting ready for print.

The convention logo, on the big screen

It may take me some time, over two or three blog posts, to debrief. Let me just say that, although it’s a messy process, Texas does grassroots better than maybe everywhere else.

“He who knows the rules rules the world.”

That was said by our senatorial district’s Rules Committee member, Clint Moore, on Thursday, during our senatorial district caucus Thursday morning. I wish I’d recorded his speech, but one thing that struck me was the comparison to Florida and Ohio, both battleground states, neither of which has a state convention—because they don’t have a rule that calls for a convention. That means the state party, whatever that consists of, has all the control over what the party does.

That’s not how we do things in Texas. We do grassroots.

Here in Texas, we have a precinct convention, after the Primary Election, in which our business is to choose delegates to the next level up, the Senatorial District Convention, and we put forth resolutions for the platform. That is, we submit ideas that we would like to have in our platform. At the district convention we put together a list of platform planks to pass along to the state. I have twice worked on the district level platform committee, putting together the resolutions we receive from all the precincts into a form we can submit to the state Resolutions and Platform Committee. At the district convention we also choose delegates to attend the state convention.

It may be different in some places around the state, but where I’ve been, if you show up at your precinct convention and want to be a delegate to the district convention, there will be room enough for you to do that; you won’t have to run against anyone for the privilege. Depending on how many attend the district convention, you can fairly easily become a delegate to the state convention, although there are fewer places available as you move up levels. For each delegate, however, you’re allowed an alternate, who only votes if a seated delegate is away during a vote. Chances are good that, most people sent as alternates will become delegates once at the convention, because of people who were elected as delegates but ended up not being able to come. So, if you’re only an alternate at the district level, you should still come to the state convention and plan on full participation.

During presidential years, we choose delegates to the national convention, in a Congressional District Caucus (all delegates who live in a US Representative’s District). But we didn’t do that this year, because it is an off-year election. We did, however, choose a state party chair, which is a story for another day.

Anyway, you can see that platform ideas really do percolate up from the grassroots. And nearly anyone who wants to participate can come and have a voice. During a presidential year (maybe any year), the Texas Republican State Convention is bigger than even the national convention. This year well over 8,000 delegates attended. That’s a pretty big army to spread across the state and spread the word.

Our rules guy was saying that, in Florida and Ohio, imagine how much more likely they would be to turn strong Republican, if the people had a process for having a voice. Here in Texas we have general rules that pertain to all conventions and meetings, general rules pertaining just to conventions, more rules that pertain specifically to precinct level conventions, district level conventions, and then related specifically to the state convention. Forty-four rules in all with a lot of sub-rules and details. It’s like a small code of laws that we are required to live by as a party. Because these rules exist, we have a process for connecting the grassroots to the state party and what it does.

The Rules Committee added a point under general rules for the state convention, inventing a new committee encompassing what I did: State Grammar, Spelling, Formatting, and Punctuation Committee. This committee is appointed “for the purpose of reviewing non-substantive grammar, spelling, formatting, and punctuation of the language included in the Reports and shall incorporate the necessary corrections.” That’s what we had been doing unofficially. But suddenly we were official, with this added requirement: “Upon completion of their work, the committee will report back to the chair with their revisions for vote by the convention.” This was announced Saturday afternoon, during the Permanent Rules Committee Report. I put a little star by it in my printed copy. Interesting, I thought. For next time.

But then, during the Permanent Platform and Resolutions Committee Report, which happened next, and is where there is actual debate before the body concerning the various planks in the platform, this rule was called to be in effect right then. So, in front of the 8000+ people, I and my editing partner were called by name to be on that committee. We had intended to do one more final final edit, after the close of the convention. But at that point we were both sitting out in the convention hall with everyone else. We didn’t have access to our computers, or the live file that was being amended or approved by the body.

So, right after the platform business, during discussion of the Permanent Legislative Priorities Committee, we met with the Platform Committee Chair at a little cafeteria table, and took notes as people brought editorial issues to our attention, which we listed to handle on the computer later. And then the Chair reported back those changes to the body, as required.

There we are, the new State Grammar, Spelling, Formatting, and Punctuation Committee,
learning from a delegate that the same plank appeared in two sections,
which we were able to correct, thanks to her.

That was a surprise. There’s not usually a lot of drama in the life of a wordsmith. And certainly not a lot of notice by name.

I’ll have more about some of the details of the platform another day, but there were a couple of innovations this year that I think worked quite well.

Transparency was big. Six weeks ahead off the convention, the resolutions were available for study online—even the scans of the original documents. And two weeks ahead they were listed on a spreadsheet for easier organizing. In past years, the committee didn’t get access to the resolutions until they arrived at the convention. There are thousands of resolutions submitted from around the state. That’s a lot of reading to comprehend, digest, recognize duplicates, and identify new ideas. The process was also online throughout the week. More on that below.

Organization of the committee was another innovation. In the past, the platform had six subcommittees. There are 31 committee members, representing the 31 state senatorial districts. They would be divided up into one of the six subcommittees. This year the Chair recommended organizing the committee, and thus the platform itself, into nine subcommittees that relate fairly closely to the State Senate committees—because a major purpose of the platform is to direct the state legislature to enact the will of the people. Each of the 31 committee members was assigned to two subcommittees. It worked out that almost all were able to be on committees of their choice, or at least among their top choices. That helped each committee to be made up of people well versed in the issues it would face, and it gave each of them more issues than in previous years. Four subcommittees met and completed their work on Monday. The next five met and worked on Tuesday. Each committee took testimony pertaining to issues before them—which included the platform planks from the previous platform as well as the resolutions sent in.

Then, they came up with a report—a list of platform planks worded as they thought best. Then, on Wednesday, the Committee of the Whole (all 31 committee members back together) met and covered the whole platform.

The increase in public testimony was another innovation. They had time in every subcommittee, both days (more than an hour per subcommittee), plus more time during the Committee of the Whole on Wednesday, and two or three more hours during the permanent committee on Thursday. Testimony wasn’t just a formality; it was essential to the process.

Here’s more about that online innovation I mentioned above. The subcommittees were all livestreamed. I believe the live subcommittee documents may also have been online for viewing. I know the document was live online during the Committee of the Whole’s work on Wednesday; enough people were tuning in that we temporarily shut down the Google server.

I worked live on Monday in Health and Human Services, and in the background all day Tuesday and late in the night (actually 3:45 AM Wednesday) to edit the document in preparation for the Committee of the Whole. The CofW took more testimony Wednesday, and then finished their report. Our edits were approved by the committee members by the time we began work on Thursday, but we were still working to incorporate approved changes as they got underway.

During the Permanent Platform Committee meeting, Thursday afternoon and evening, I did live work with them, and my partner continued to do work in the background on that file. We were working with Google Docs (new to both of us, so we were suffering from old person learning curve, but doing pretty well, I thought). In Docs, you can have multiple simultaneous contributors. So we used Suggestion mode, which identifies the contributor of the change. That meant our names were all over the place in front of everyone present or tuning in online. Yep, that was really us. 

The Permanent Platform and Resolutions Committee,
getting ready for the meeting to start, Thursday afternoon.
This is one half of the view from where I sat at my computer.

For the live work, I would type in suggested amendments in suggestion mode, until voted on, and then that change was either deleted or accepted and became part of the document. I really enjoyed doing that part. A couple of times I was able to make wording suggestions that made things go smoother. (During the less formal subcommittee meeting, I struggled a bit to keep my mouth shut, but I mostly managed.)

Everything with the whole committee is handled with parliamentary procedure, no direct person-to-person debate. And there wasn’t complete agreement, by any means. I’ll talk about details of the platform, as I said, another day. I just want to say, when you’re dealing with ideas, even when there’s a lot of emotional intensity related, it’s different from the politics of swaying people to one person or another. I really enjoy working in the idea realm, rather than the political realm.

Another innovation, related to those nine subcommittee sections, is that, during floor debate, instead of handling the entire platform as a whole, it was handled section by section. Each section had an allotted time. One issue-related group might dominate that section, but once time was out, they couldn’t dominate the rest of the discussion.

There is a preliminary section, handled by the Committee of the Whole, with a preamble and basic principles. While there were suggested changes, this section remained unchanged from the past couple of platforms, 2016 and 2014. Anyway, because of this segmentation of debate, we had planned to begin discussion Friday afternoon, and maybe get through two or three sections. But that time was preempted by some political shenanigans I’ll talk about another day.

When we finally got to debate on the platform, Saturday afternoon, we got through only the Preamble and Principles plus the first six sections. But, if we’d had Friday, we would have covered the whole thing. As it was, it was the most orderly and satisfying platform debate I’ve ever seen at a state convention. So I’d say that change will continue. Because of the possibility of debate starting Friday, we had to get printing done for Friday—a day earlier than previous conventions. (This required yet another very late and intense night. Sorry for the few errors we didn’t catch.)

Yet another platform innovation, which began in 2016, instigated by party Vice-Chair Amy Clark (term just ended), was to have up-or-down voting on each plank of the platform. After the platform is accepted as amended, all the delegates get a Scantron sheet and a number 2 pencil, and vote “include” or “do not include.” This included voting on Legislative Priorities, the platform planks, plus one resolution included after the planks. Then those were tallied by machine right after the close of the convention, and results were online by the time I looked, after traveling.

None of the planks had a majority of “do not include” votes. But neither did any receive 100% approval. But we can take those planks to the legislature and say exactly what percentage of the delegates really wanted this to be done. That has some power.

Legislative Priorities is a new committee this year. We had been adding a list of legislative priorities at the back of our district platform list, the last couple of times. And that good idea made its way up. This will take some refining, but I think it gives extra power to those issues that we most want to call to the attention of the state legislature.

So that’s how grassroots work. The people together actually do some pretty good work. I was honored to be a part of it. And, for any state that doesn’t have good grassroots participation, I suggest using Texas as a pattern.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Sincerely Held Religious Belief

[N]o bureaucratic judgment condemning a sincerely held religious belief as “irrational” or “offensive” will ever survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment. In this country, the place of secular officials isn’t to sit in judgment of religious beliefs, but only to protect their free exercise.
—Justice Neil Gorsuch

As if I didn’t write a long enough post on Monday about the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, I thought I’d add some more.

On Monday we dealt mostly with Kennedy’s majority opinion. But there were actually four concurring opinions: Kennedy’s (joined by all but Ginsburg and Sotomayor), Kagan (joined by Breyer), Gorsuch (joined by Alito), and Thomas (joined by Gorsuch). Plus, of course, there was the dissenting opinion.

Justices ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,
image from SCOTUSblog

There’s something of an argument going on between Justice Kagan and Justice Gorsuch. The SCOTUS world isn’t like much of anything else we have. These two differing people don’t sit in a room and discuss or debate one another. They ask different questions during oral arguments, which reveals something of what they’re thinking. But it isn’t until the written opinions that you see them challenging the opinions of others.

Justice Kagan agrees that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was wrong in their anti-religious approach to the baker. But their tone, and approach, is pretty much all she finds wrong.

There’s a comparison in this case with the Jack case—a man who requested a cake with an anti-same-sex marriage message written on it, including a Bible verse, and was turned away by three bakers, in which case the CCRC ruled that the bakers did not have to create a cake with a message against their beliefs. Kagan says the difference is that they would not have made such a cake for any customer. But she claims Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, does make wedding cakes for anyone but same-sex customers.

Justice Kagan writes,

The different outcomes in the Jack cases and the Phillips case could thus have been justified by a plain reading and neutral application of Colorado law—untainted by any bias against a religious belief.
There’s a long footnote comment at that point (I’ve left out the citations):

image from
JUSTICE GORSUCH disagrees. In his view, the Jack cases and the Phillips case must be treated the same because the bakers in all those cases “would not sell the requested cakes to anyone.” That description perfectly fits the Jack cases—and explains why the bakers there did not engage in unlawful discrimination. But it is a surprising characterization of the Phillips case, given that Phillips routinely sells wedding cakes to opposite-sex couples. JUSTICE GORSUCH can make the claim only because he does not think a “wedding cake” is the relevant product. As JUSTICE GORSUCH sees it, the product that Phillips refused to sell here—and would refuse to sell to anyone—was a “cake celebrating same-sex marriage.” But that is wrong. The cake requested was not a special “cake celebrating same-sex marriage.” It was simply a wedding cake—one that (like other standard wedding cakes) is suitable for use at same-sex and opposite-sex weddings alike.

Let me clarify here, to help out Justice Kagan. A marriage—and the ceremony and celebration surrounding it, called a wedding—is a particular thing. It has been that particular thing for thousands of years. The particular thing that is defined as marriage is a contract between a man and a woman indicating that their union is permanent, includes the human reproductive behavior that can lead to offspring, and in most cultures is exclusive. They make the contract before the community—by way of church and law most usually—thereby allowing the community to expect from them the social benefits that marriage provides.

A ruling by five justices, legalizing same-sex marriage by fiat, does not change the definition of actual marriage; it cannot. The power to do so was never granted to those judges by the people, nor by their law, the Constitution. Nor could a majority of people voting to make it so among a particular people change the definition of what marriage actually is.

Add to that the belief that the original definition of marriage was ordained by God, and to the believer the very attempt to change it becomes immoral.

As Justice Thomas says in his concurring opinion:

Forcing Phillips to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex marriages requires him to, at the very least, acknowledge that same-sex weddings are “weddings” and suggest that they should be celebrated—the precise message he believes his faith forbids.
To clarify further, it is not homophobic, bigoted, or otherwise evil to believe in the real meaning of marriage. There is nothing inherently anti-homosexual about that. Homosexuals have always been allowed to marry a person of the opposite sex, who is not married to someone else, who is not a close relative—just like heterosexuals. It’s just that they are now expecting all cultures the world over to throw out real marriage and redefine it as something akin to “in a current sexual relationship with a person of my choosing.” And then they choose someone to whom they cannot, by definition, marry.
For someone who made a covenant to a spouse and is living that out decade after decade, to be told my covenant is now transformed into nothing more than an announcement of who I’m currently choosing to hook up with—that is utterly disrespectful. Yet you’re not getting gay-hate parades. You’re not getting gay persecutions. You’re getting quiet business owners who simply want to go about their businesses while living their religions—and they’re being persecuted and prosecuted for it.

In the end, we know the meek will inherit the earth. In the meantime, if we’re truth seekers, we should seek justice for not just one baker, but for all the other marriage-honoring people who are being persecuted.

So, back to this case. Justice Gorsuch is correct: a “cake celebrating same-sex marriage” is not the same as a “wedding cake.” They have the same ingredients, but not the same intent.

The same-sex couple would have been free to purchase a generic wedding cake, already produced by the baker (or, rather, whatever was available on the day they wanted it), and they could take it and use it for whatever purpose they chose, without ever burdening the baker with knowledge or responsibility for how the confection would be used.

But that is not what they asked. They asked for a custom designed and produced cake for their same-sex “wedding” celebration. Phillips told them he does not design and create cakes for such an event. He was asked by the mother of one of the couple, and he would not sell such a service to her either, even though she was heterosexual. It wasn’t about the sexual orientation of the customers—whom he was willing to serve with any of his other products. It was about his unwillingness to use his God-given talents to celebrate an event that, in his view, is not a real wedding, and further is offensive to God.

Kagan’s view can only be correct if a same-sex “marriage” is self-evidently exactly equal to an actual marriage. At the time of the dispute, not even the state of Colorado saw it that way.

During the oral arguments during Obergefell, Justice Kennedy was fully aware of the danger to religious people, who would not change their beliefs simply because a ruling made a legal path open to a certain group of people. And he seemed to at least give lip service to the importance of protecting religious liberty.

And to be fair, the Court has ruled unanimously several times in recent years to protect religious liberty. It’s just that there’s always this rather arbitrary “unless the government has a compelling interest” threat hanging overhead. In this case, fortunately, we still have 7 of the 9 justices willing to recognize the need to support religious freedom, although the reasons of at least 3 of them feel rather tentative, more like “don’t be overtly anti-religious.”

In the absence of Justice Scalia, I’m happy that we have yet another justice who is not just clear, but enjoyable to read. There’s this section of Justice Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in which he uses a Goldilocks metaphor in referring to the changing standards used by the Colorado Commission:
Goldilocks, image from here

At its most general level, the cake at issue in Mr. Phillips’s case was just a mixture of flour and eggs; at its most specific level, it was a cake celebrating the same-sex wedding of Mr. Craig and Mr. Mullins. We are told here, however, to apply a sort of Goldilocks rule: describing the cake by its ingredients is too general; understanding it as celebrating a same-sex wedding is too specific; but regarding it as a generic wedding cake is just right. The problem is, the Commission didn’t play with the level of generality in Mr. Jack’s case in this way. It didn’t declare, for example, that because the cakes Mr. Jack requested were just cakes about weddings generally, and all such cakes were the same, the bakers had to produce them. Instead, the Commission accepted the bakers’ view that the specific cakes Mr. Jack requested conveyed a message offensive to their convictions and allowed them to refuse service. Having done that there, it must do the same here.
Any other conclusion would invite civil authorities to gerrymander their inquiries based on the parties they prefer. Why calibrate the level of generality in Mr. Phillips’s case at “wedding cakes” exactly—and not at, say, “cakes” more generally or “cakes that convey a message regarding same-sex marriage” more specifically? If “cakes” were the relevant level of generality, the Commission would have to order the bakers to make Mr. Jack’s requested cakes just as it ordered Mr. Phillips to make the requested cake in his case. Conversely, if “cakes that convey a message regarding same-sex marriage” were the relevant level of generality, the Commission would have to respect Mr. Phillips’s refusal to make the requested cake just as it respected the bakers’ refusal to make the cakes Mr. Jack requested. In short, when the same level of generality is applied to both cases, it is no surprise that the bakers have to be treated the same. Only by adjusting the dials just right—fine-tuning the level of generality up or down for each case based solely on the identity of the parties and the substance of their views—can you engineer the Commission’s outcome, handing a win to Mr. Jack’s bakers but delivering a loss to Mr. Phillips. Such results-driven reasoning is improper.
Justice Thomas ends his concurring opinion with a reminder that he told us so:

In Obergefell, I warned that the Court’s decision would “inevitabl[y]… come into conflict” with religious liberty, “as individuals… are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.” This case proves that the conflict has already emerged. Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing Obergefell from being used to “stamp out every vestige of dissent” and “vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy” [Alito]. If that freedom is to maintain its vitality, reasoning like the Colorado Court of Appeals’ must be rejected.
The battle is being waged. I hope the meekly religious can hang on until it’s time to inherit the earth.