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My apologies for having not posted more frequently lately; I guess the impending collapse of Western Democracy has been leaving me feeling a bit unmotivated. (More about that in a later post). Here are a few quick links to catch up on some Texas election news:
I. TEXAS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS DO THEIR THING
I’ll unpack this story in a separate post because it deserves more scrutiny (what with democracy teetering on the brink and all), but essentially the Standard-Times story repeats the received experiential wisdom of many election experts — that nothing exciting or new is going to happen with the Electoral College, because nothing exciting or new ever happens with the Electoral College.
The story notes in passing that Republican state officials are now considering legislation to punish any future so-called “rogue electors” in response to the defections. The text of the proposed bill (H.B. 543, filed by Representative John Raney) is here, and as currently drafted, the bill imposes a $5,000 fine on electors who fail to vote the party line.
II. IS THE TOWN OF BROCK EVEN REALLY REAL?
From the Palestine Herald-Press, this story about a dispute between the newly incorporated village of Brock and the city of Weatherford, regarding a proposed May 2017 election in Brock to choose a mayor and city council. The problem here is that when Brock incorporated, it did its incorporation election “wrong” by failing to include an initial slate of city officials in the ballot. Oops.
So the Weatherford city attorney is taking the position that the proposed May 2017 municipal general election in Brock is illegal. Meanwhile, the attorney for the putative legal entity (the town of Brock) is arguing in effect, “well, what exactly are we supposed to do? We got a judge to order a make-up election to fix our mistake, and we have to have a city council at some point, right?”
At heart, I suspect this is really a fight driven by the zero-sum game of local property tax revenue — another taxing entity in the county means another governmental competitor for statutorily limited tax dollars (because of the tax rate ceiling cap on local tax assessments).
In effect, the City of Weatherford’s attorney is saying that the town of Brock never really incorporated, because the town’s incorporation election was such an error-strewn screwed-up mess. Those are technical legal terms, by the way.
III. WHAT IS GOING ON IN KAUFMAN COUNTY?
From InForney.com comes this story about a newly elected county commissioner submitting paperwork to decline the oath of office. Greg Starek campaigned actively for the post in the March 2016 Republican Party primary, and (as with most Republican candidates in Kaufman County) was unopposed in the general election. The story gives no indication as to why Mr. Starek is now declining the seat, which will need to be filled by appointment. The lack of details means my curiosity about the circumstances is unsatisfied.
IV. SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS IN THE VALLEY ARE ALWAYS EXCITING!
The losing candidates (who ran together on a slate referred to as the ‘U.S.S. Restore’ team) allege that the winning candidates (who ran together on a slate referred to as the ‘Kid’s Choice’ political team) relied on 200 forged or unsigned mail ballots to carry the election, and also that election workers improperly harassed voters who requested “assistance” from campaign workers in casting their ballots.
Like I said, this is depressingly familiar, even in the weird details of the election’s alleged “wrongness.” There’s the allegation of ballot farming and signature forgery. There’s the partisan factionalism, a feature of Valley politics that we don’t generally see in more settled and sleepy school board elections in other parts of the state. There’s the fight over the legitimacy of the commonplace but fundamentally icky practice of campaign workers “offering assistance” to voters in the polling place.
And the weirdest element of the story for someone not living in the Valley may be the intensity and scorched-earth rhetoric of the criminal allegations in an election where by law (per Section 11.061(d), Texas Education Code) the winners earn no salary or other emolument and have what in most communities is perceived as the largely invisible, dull, and thankless job of running a school district (as an illustrative example of this observation, note the summary descriptions of cancelled unopposed trustee elections and elections with unfilled seats in this October 2016 Waco Tribune story about independent school district elections in and around the Waco area).
As is so often the case, the story “behind the story” is left untold. Again, it’s about money, and not just whatever income the school district can derive from the admittedly limited local property tax base, but also the money redistributed to Rio Grande City CISD by the Texas Education Agency. In a community of limited resources, control of that money is a matter of intense, all-consuming importance, to the point where elections become epic no-holds battles.
Our presumptive President-Elect chose to take time out from his Sunday (November 27) to inform us via Twitter (with no evidence) that millions of people voted illegally, and that but for those illegal votes, he would have won the popular vote nationally. (As of this writing Hillary Clinton is more than 2,200,000 ballots ahead of Trump in the popular vote).
Not to mention that he has in the space of a couple of inflammatory Tweets managed to insult the professionalism and intelligence of every county and state voter registrar, election worker, poll watcher, precinct judge, county elections board member, and state election officer in the country, not to mention every—or at least 3 million—of us voters.
If this is what we have to look forward to for the next four years, the ratings for Trump’s reality TV version of the federal government should be through the roof, right? So at least we have that going for us. It’s obscene—if understandable; this is the PEOTUS, after all— that this story got any traction at all.
But first, given that in my last post I opined that the Clinton campaign would be unlikely to seek recounts in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and given that events have proven my opinion to be wrong, let’s address the decision by the Clinton campaign to piggyback on the Jill Stein campaign’s recount requests.
General counsel to Hillary for America Marc Elias (via a statement posted on Medium, and as quoted extensively in Rick Hasen’s blog) makes it clear that Hillary Clinton is wholly realistic about the likelihood that the recounts will not change the outcome of the election, but that such recounts should prove useful as audits of the accuracy and integrity of the election process and to settle fears regarding the risks of result-changing “hacks.”
Briefly, the Clinton campaign would not have pursued recounts but for the fact that
(1) The Stein campaign raised the money and filed the paperwork to get the ball rolling, and
(2) Voters were collectively so disturbed and agitated by evidence of foreign meddling and interference in the election that it made sense for the Clinton campaign to join in the recount effort in order to bring closure to the election.
So why did Stein’s campaign ask for recounts in the first place?
I don’t know—I guess it’s possible that the Stein campaign coordinated with the Clinton campaign, but that seems unlikely, given that neither campaign will benefit in any direct political way from behind-the-scenes cooperation.
I suspect that the Stein recount was motivated by no more than what it seems to be on its face—a grassroots-driven gift propelled by very real and understandable anxiety on the part of committed Stein supporters who could not have been happy with the idea of a Trump victory, especially if it was the result of some sort of direct interference or manipulation of the vote totals in key precincts.
Finally, Paul Musgrave, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has written a nice summary explanation as to why Russia benefits—at least in the short term—from all this anxiety.
A few posts ago, in a fit of pique, and in the context of Donald Trump’s relative success as an early front-runner among the potential Republican Party candidates running for that party’s 2016 presidential race nomination, I referred to the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid.” My wife believes that this rhetorical flourish stepped over a line (the invisible line of “I am trying to get a job and not look like a crazy person by insulting people needlessly.”) (P.S. I am seeking employment.)
The thing is, when I wrote that line, I didn’t actually think I was being particularly provocative or insulting. In the past, I’ve referred to the Republican Party as having a distinct intra-party segment or wing that could fairly be described as neo-segregationist, and for my own enlightenment, I’ve traced the history of the Republican Party’s post-1964 Faustian bargain known as the “Southern Strategy,” in which the party absorbed the explicitly pro-segregationist Southern Dixiecrats who felt abandoned by the Democratic Party. (For an introductory overview of the evolution of the “Southern Strategy,” this Wikipedia article is a good start. Also good is this recent short article by Professor Elwood Watson on GOP engagement with racial politics.)
The Southern Strategy was wildly and overwhelmingly successful, by the way. By welcoming the tattered remains of conservative Southern Democrats into their folds, the Republican Party decisively conquered local, state, and Federal offices throughout the South, particularly with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan.
Why did the strategy work so well? Think about it. It’s not as though the Federal judicial and legislative triumph of the Civil Rights Act waved a magic wand and made all the segregationists disappear, just because the formal mechanisms and legal framework of segregation itself had been abolished. The segregationists had to go somewhere.
Nevertheless, in a nod to those who may have felt individually singled out or insulted by my analysis of the Republican Party as an institution, I should acknowledge that the act of labeling a person, group, association, or political party as racist is rhetorically inflammatory, even when that person, group, association, or political party is objectively racist. The fact that racist individuals do not (generally) relish self-identification as racists should be seen as a positive recent development in American political discourse.
As politicians of all parties and ideological positions learned over the iterative process of attempting to win elections in the United States, starting with post-Reconstruction and moving forward through the Civil Rights era, one had to be sensitive to the ways in which threatened conservative white voters preserved their sense of self-worth as human beings in the face of cognitive dissonance on being told that they were horrible people for being bigots.
I suspect that for individual bigots (i.e., ultimately all of us, since we all have our own internal unsupportable prejudices), bigotry involves a constant gauging of social acceptability and peer status in terms of feelings about a prejudice, with an internal, unspoken tug of war between a personal racist assertion born of culture, background, and experience (say, something like an unspoken feeling that, “I hate minorities,” or “I hate poor people,” or “I hate people who are different from me.”) and a questioning of that personal racist assertion, (something like, “Do I really hate minorities? What about Colin Powell? He’s identified as a minority based on racial classifications, but he’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. Do I hate Colin Powell? If I do hate him, is it because he is identified as belonging to a racial minority, or do I hate him for reasons unrelated to his identification as a racial minority? Do I hate Condoleeza Rice? She’s also a former member of a Republican Presidential administration. If I discover on self-examination that I do hate Condoleeza Rice, does my realization affect how I see myself interacting with a community of my family, friends, coworkers, and peers?”)
So a person might go from thinking, “I hate minorities.” to thinking, “I thought I hated all minorities. But other people who share my views appear not to hate Condoleeza Rice, either because (a) they don’t regard her as being a hated minority, or (b) because they don’t hate minorities. Now either I don’t know if I hate Condoleeza Rice, or my global hatred of minorities must be modified and altered because Condoleeza Rice lacks some element of unacceptability in the eyes of my peers. Perhaps I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice despite the fact that she is identified with a minority group, either because she transcends that group, or because I don’t really hate minorities.”
Among some groups (say, for example, the most extreme white supremacists), the peer consensus would support continuing to hate Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or other nationally famous black political conservatives, solely on the basis of race – these groups and the individual bigots within these groups would then be compelled to distance themselves even further from their more moderate ideological peers, at a cost in terms of their self-identity and self-perceived social value and acceptance. When pressed on their rationalizations for their inability to not hate individual black conservatives, they would have to fall back on some distinguishing factor or quality specific to cultural determinations of say, Condoleeza Rice’s identification as a member of a minority group that she can never overcome; one could imagine a White Power gang member or a Klu Klux Klan member saying, “Oh, we can’t make an exception in our general worldview on behalf of Condoleeza Rice because of [some rationalization supporting the universality of our hatred for blacks].”
Among other groups (say, for example, conservative whites who have internalized a capacity to interact on civil terms with members of racial minority groups), the internal dialogue on race comes to a different conclusion than it does for more “doctrinaire” racists. A rural Southern bigot who has personal experiences of professional and social dealings with members of a nominally hated group might think. “Wait. I’m not a racist after all, because I don’t hate Condoleeza Rice. In order to actually be a racist, it would be necessary for me to hate Condoleeza Rice. Q.E.D., I’m open-minded. Thank goodness I’m not a racist, because self-identification as a racist comes with a number of unacceptable social trade-offs and costs that I’m not willing to be burdened with.”
Such a person, having experienced relief at not having to self-identify as racist, would read my labeling of the Republican Party as the “Party of Apartheid” (or more accurately, my use of that label to suggest that Donald Trump’s success in the early running among possible Republican Party candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination demonstrates segregationist vigor within the Republican Party) as deeply offensive. “How dare that horrid little election law attorney paint me with the broad brush of brutal South African racial apartheid, just because I happened to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012! I’m no racist! I don’t even like Donald Trump!”
Here’s where its important for readers not to conflate their own personal self-identification with the ideological positions and strategies of the groups that they are members of. The fact that I can regard the Republican Party as effectively repositioning itself as the Party of Apartheid does not mean that I think individuals who label themselves as Republicans are consequently automatically in favor of neo-segregationist policies, or that I think that all (or even very many) Republicans are white supremacists, or that they even agree with or approve of their party’s general position on any matters associated with race.
If that isn’t clear, let me repeat it. As a shorthand expression of someone’s moral qualities, policy views, or personal ethics, I find party affiliation to be a completely meaningless and useless label in the abstract. There are Republicans in South Texas who would be vilified as bomb-throwing members of the Communist Politburo by hard right-wingers. There are Democrats in the Texas Panhandle who would be satirized as fire-breathing ultra-right Fascists by hard left-wingers. If someone shakes my hand and tells me, “I’m John Doe, Republican,” I don’t think, “Oh, John Doe, you must be a racist.” In fact, I don’t make any judgment at all until John Doe actually tells me what he thinks and shows me how he acts.
It’s not even the case that any Republicans necessarily wanted or welcomed segregationists into the Republican Party after 1964. In 1968, George Wallace ran for President on the Firebreathing Racist ticket because the Party of Lincoln didn’t want him, and the Democrats had evolved away from him. But as I said, the segregationists had to go somewhere, and ours is a nation institutionally constructed to preserve a two-party political system.
When a group gets the boot from one party, they only have one option – joining the other party. They have to swallow their pride, alter their rhetoric, philosophically make their peace with the realignment, and move on with their lives. That’s what the segregationists did after LBJ (in the most dramatic political masterstroke since the Emancipation Proclamation) broke the power of the Southern Congressional delegation.
What’s interesting about the inevitability of Donald Trump’s current success is that reflects a new sophistication in the segregationist platform; one that (wisely) steers away from the tired, moribund, and politically impotent anti-black racism of the Old South, and instead energizes a more cosmopolitan national nativist racism that plugs into a nuanced hatred of an amorphous and threatening “other.”