Texas: A not-so-great state

As Perry eyes the presidency and Dewhurst makes a bid for the Senate, let’s look at the story the numbers really tell

Phyllis Guest | Taking NoteGuest.Phyllis.2

It seems that while David Dewhurst is running for the U.S. Senate, Rick Perry — otherwise known as Gov. Goodhair — is planning to run for president. I wonder what numbers they will use to show how well they have run Texas.

Could they cite $16 million? That’s the sum Perry distributed from our state’s Emerging Technology Fund to his campaign contributors.

Or maybe it is $4.1 billion. That’s the best estimate of the fees and taxes our state collects for dedicated purposes — but diverts to other uses.

Then again, it could be $28 billion. That’s the last published number for the state’s budget deficit, although Perry denied any deficit during his last campaign.

But let’s not get bogged down with dollar amounts. Let’s consider some of the state’s other numbers.

There’s the fact that Texas ranks worst in at least three key measures:

We are the most illiterate, with more than 10 percent of our state’s population unable to read a word. LIFT — Literacy Instruction for Texas — recently reported that half of Dallas residents cannot read a newspaper.

We also have the lowest percentage of persons covered by health insurance and the highest number of teenage repeat pregnancies.

Not to mention that 12,000 children have spent at least three years in the state welfare system, waiting for a foster parent. That’s the number reported in the Texas-loving Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has agreed to put several amendments to the Texas Constitution before the voters. HJR 63, HJR 109 plus SJR 4, SJR 16, and SJR 50 all appear to either authorize the shifting of discretionary funds or the issuance of bonds to cover expenses.

Duh. As if we did not know that bonds represent debt, and that we will be paying interest on those bonds long after Dewhurst and Perry leave office.

Further, this spring, the Lege decided that all voters — except, I believe, the elderly — must show proof of citizenship to obtain a state ID or to get or renew a driver’s license. As they did not provide any funds for the issuance of those ID cards or for updating computer systems to accommodate the new requirement, it seems those IDs will be far from free.

Also far from free is Perry’s travel. The Lege decided that the governor does not have to report what he and his entourage spend on travel, which is convenient for him because we taxpayers foot the bill for his security — even when he is making obviously political trips. Or taking along his wife and his golf clubs.

And surely neither Rick Perry nor David Dewhurst will mention the fact that a big portion of our state’s money comes from the federal government. One report I saw stated that our state received $17 billion in stimulus money, although the gov and his lieutenant berated the Democratic president for providing the stimulus.

And the gov turned down $6 billion in education funds, then accepted the funds but did not use them to educate Texans.

The whole thing — Dewhurst’s campaign and Perry’s possible campaign, the 2012-2013 budget, the recent biannual session of the Texas Legislature — seems like something Mark Twain might have written at his tongue-in-cheek best.

We have huge problems in public school education, higher education, health care, air pollution and water resources, to mention just a few of our more notable failures.

Yet our elected officials are defunding public education and thus punishing children, parents, and teachers. They are limiting women’s health care so drastically that our own Parkland Hospital will be unable to provide appropriate care to 30,000 women.

They are seeking a Medicaid “pilot program” that will pave the way for privatized medical services, which will erode health care for all but the wealthiest among us. They are fighting tooth and nail to keep the EPA from dealing with our polluted environment. They are doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Texas continues to have plenty of safe drinking water.

They are most certainly not creating good jobs.

So David Dewhurst and his wife Tricia prayed together and apparently learned that he should run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Now Rick Perry is planning a huge prayer rally Saturday, Aug. 6, at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

God help us.

Phyllis Guest is a longtime activist on political and LGBT issues and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lawsuit challenges Louisiana’s ‘crimes against nature’ law punishing oral, anal sex

MARY FOSTER | Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s 200-year-old law against solicitation of oral and anal sex is archaic, discriminatory, and unconstitutional.

So says a coalition of lawyers and social activists who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state’s “crimes against nature” law, which makes solicitation of such acts illegal.

In Louisiana, prostitutes do not have to register as sex offenders unless they are charged more than once with having oral or anal sex. Those who are paid for only those types of sex do have to register if arrested a second time.

Attorney Alexis Agathocleous of the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights said Wednesday that distinction targets homosexuals, transsexuals and poor and minority women who work as prostitutes.

“Four in 10 of the people in Orleans Parish Prison are there because of a ‘crime against nature,”’ Agathocleous said.

And 97 percent of the women registered as sex offenders in the state are charged with “crime against nature,” said co-council Andrea Ritchie.

Not only is the law unconstitutional, it is enforced completely at the discretion of the arresting officer, Ritchie said.

“This leaves the door wide open to discriminatory enforcement targeting black women, transgender women and gay men for a charge that carries much harsher penalties,” Ritchie said. “That decision can change the entire course of a person’s life.”

People who are registered as a sex offender must notify their neighbors, have their name and offense published in the newspaper, appear on the sex offender website, and have the words “Sex Offender” stamped in bright orange on their driver’s license or state ID.

The registration is for at least 15 years and can be for life.

Ritchie said one woman convicted of the crime cannot take her daughter to day care now because of the sex offender designation which restricts the amount of contact she can have with minors.

“It can hurt people for years and keep them from getting their lives together,” said Deon Haywood, executive director of Women With a Vision, which works with women at risk.

Lawmakers modified the law last summer, rescinding the need for those charged with crimes against nature to register as sex offenders, but only after the first arrest. If arrested a second time they must register. They did nothing to modify the requirement for those previously arrested on the charge to remain registered, Agathocleous said.

“All other sex offender crimes involve children, violence, coercion,” he said. “None of those things are involved in the crimes against nature.”

The state attorney general’s office said it had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.

—  John Wright