Texans, however, are hardly monolithic. The state is as politically divided as the rest of the nation. One can drive across it and be in two different states at the same time: FM Texas and AM Texas. FM Texas is the silky voice of city dwellers, the kingdom of NPR. It is progressive, blue, reasonable, secular, and smug—almost like California. AM Texas speaks to the suburbs and the rural areas: Trumpland. It’s endless bluster and endless ads. Paranoia and piety are the main items on the menu.
Texas has been growing at a stupefying rate for decades. The only state with more residents is California, and the number of Texans is projected to double by 2050, to 54.4 million, almost as many people as in California and New York combined. Three Texas cities—Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio—are already among the top ten most populous in the country. The eleventh largest is Austin, the capital, where I live. For the past five years, it has been one of the fastest-growing large cities in America; it now has nearly a million people, dwarfing the college town I fell in love with almost forty years ago. Because Texas represents so much of modern America—the South, the West, the plains, the border, the Latino community, the divide between rural areas and cities—what happens here tends to disproportionately affect the rest of the nation. Illinois and New Jersey may be more corrupt, and Kansas and Louisiana more out of whack, but they don’t bear the responsibility of being the future.
The first question you ask is, "What sparked your interest and why do you want to be a firefighter?" He proceeds to give you the same clone answers you have heard from almost every candidate for five days.
The trick is to get them to all fly in the same formation.An oral board member told me they had a candidate who didn't answer all the questions the way they wanted him to do, but he had such great personal life experience in his answers (stories) they hired him anyway.
The play pieces need to be put in the correct places to help Percy the train driver put on his uniform, pick up his passengers and then drive the train along the right track to the station – There’s lots of work to be done!
As the bathroom bill was moving through the Texas legislature, Mack Beggs, a seventeen-year-old transgender high-school student from Euless, Texas, won the girls’ state wrestling championship, in the hundred-and-ten-pound weight class. He had been taking testosterone supplements as he transitioned to male, and he had won fifty-six matches in a row. Although he wants to wrestle boys—“because I’m a guy,” he told ESPN—the University Interscholastic League, which oversees the athletic programs in Texas public schools, recently adopted a rule that requires wrestling opponents to have the same sex listed on their birth certificates.
I met Straus in his office. He switched on a closed-circuit TV to watch a press conference by a new group of a dozen cultural conservatives, the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is led by Matt Schaefer, a state representative from Tyler, in East Texas. The group, which models itself on the similarly named body of far-right House Republicans in Washington, had formed, in part, because the term “Tea Party” had lost its meaning—in Texas, at least—as nearly every Republican in the legislature claimed to be unimpeachably conservative. What distinguished this group was that the members were all vociferously anti-Straus. The declared mission of the group is to “amplify the voice of liberty-minded grassroots Texans who want bold action to protect life, strengthen families, defend the Bill of Rights, restrain government, and revitalize personal and economic freedoms in Texas.”
S.B. 4 was loaded up with punitive amendments, all of which were endorsed by the entirely white Republican majority. (Of the thirty-one members of the Texas Senate, only eleven are Democrats; seven are Latino.) Under one amendment, Sheriff Hernandez—whom Abbott began calling Sanctuary Sally—could be jailed for up to a year if she refused to grant a detainer.
A woman in a short-sleeved black dress identified herself as Jess Herbst, the mayor of New Hope, a tiny town north of Dallas, in a firmly Republican section of the state. A few weeks earlier, Mayor Herbst had written to her constituents to tell them that she was taking hormone-replacement therapy and transitioning to female. She had received overwhelming support, she told the committee. “I just want to be able to use the women’s room and not have someone ask me at the door for my papers,” she said.
Nearly a year after the judge’s ruling, Child Protective Services acknowledged that caseworkers had not even visited more than forty-seven hundred children at high risk of abuse or severe neglect. Hundreds of children have been sleeping in hotels or emergency shelters, or on air mattresses in government offices, because the state has nowhere else to put them. Hundreds of caseworkers have quit, complaining that they were overworked, demoralized, poorly paid, and often placed in dangerous situations. Union leaders have said that higher pay would help attract more applicants to the job, which offers a starting salary of thirty-seven thousand dollars, but state officials countered with a plan to lower the educational requirements for caseworkers. During the 2017 legislative session, while bills addressing the child-welfare crisis were being considered, a teen-age girl who was being housed in a state office building fled in the middle of the night. She was hit by a van and killed.
Armando Martinez, a forty-one-year-old Democratic member from the Valley, is a firefighter and a paramedic. He showed up on the first day of the session with a bandage on his head; on New Year’s Eve, he’d been hit by a stray celebratory bullet. Martinez filed a bill to prohibit the “reckless discharge of a firearm.”
Dan Patrick, Rick Perry, and other Texas lawmakers who have called their bills a victory for women’s health have shown no compassion for the women who have suffered, and perhaps died, because of them. Their legislation has been equally heartless toward children. A fifth of the uninsured children in the U.S. are in Texas. In 2004, the Texas Education Agency lowered the percentage of children who can be enrolled in special-education classes from thirteen per cent (about the national average) to eight and a half per cent (the lowest in the country). According to the Houston Chronicle, tens of thousands of children have been denied the education they need because of this arbitrary limit.