What’s Brewing: Texas A&M student body president vetoes anti-gay Student Senate bill

State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, says he doesn’t know what the impact of his anti-gay budget amendment would be: “Ask the attorneys,” he says.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Texas A&M Student Body President Jacob Robinson has vetoed an anti-gay measure passed by the Student Senate last week aimed at slashing funding for the school’s LGBT resource center. The Student Senate voted 22-21 in favor of the bill supporting a state budget amendment by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would require schools with LGBT resource centers to spend an equal amount on centers for “family and traditional values.” Meanwhile, Christian told the American Independent that he doesn’t even know what the impact of his budget amendment would be: “I am interested in finding out the legal opinion — does our bill also instruct them with what to do with private funds? I am not sure, that’s something to ask attorneys, so no, I don’t know the answer.” How do you introduce a budget amendment without even knowing what its impact will be? What kind of fiscal responsibility is that? The sad part is, the amendment passed the Texas House by a vote of 110-24. The state Senate is expected to take up the appropriations bill, with Christian’s amendment attached, this week.

2. A San Antonio man who unsuccessfully tried to use the gay panic defense was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday for fatally slashing the throat of a retired teacher with a cheese knife. Augustine Sauceda, 23, claims to be straight and says he committed the crime because the victim, 56-year-old Joe Ramon Jr., started groping him and wouldn’t take no for an answer. But that didn’t explain why Sauceda initially told police he was bisexual and had been at a gay bar the night before the murder. It also didn’t explain the fact that Ramon’s DNA was found on the victim’s flat-screen TV, suggesting that the real motive for the crime was robbery. In any case, 30 years still seems like a pretty light sentence, especially given that Sauceda will be eligible for parole after 15? Would he have gotten more time if the victim was straight?

3. Dallas police aren’t releasing any additional information about the murder of a gay Lake Highlands couple found dead inside their burned apartment early Wednesday. The victims names are being withheld pending positive identification of their bodies by the medical examiner, and authorities are still searching for a missing vehicle belonging to one of the victims. Police also continue to say that while they don’t believe the murders were a hate crime, they don’t really know what the motive was.

—  John Wright

Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

KrisSteele
Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas