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Texas GOP Shows Its Cards

Texas Republicans aren't pulling any punches, South Dakota attorney general Jason Ravnsborg is impeached and Washington, D.C., mayor Muriel Bowser nearly guarantees that she'll win a third term in the fall.

Texas governor Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott addresses the attendees during the 2022 Republican Party of Texas State Convention in Houston, Texas, on Thursday, June 16, 2022. (Lola Gomez/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
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Texas GOP Shows Its Cards: Texas Republicans aren’t pulling any punches. Over the weekend, delegates to the state party convention approved a platform that presses down hard on any number of hot-button issues, calling homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and claiming President Biden “was not legitimately elected.”

"Texas retains the right to secede from the United States, and the Texas Legislature should be called upon to pass a referendum consistent thereto,” the platform declares.

Some of the planks are boilerplate hard-right stuff – calling for the abolition of the Federal Reserve and the federal Department of Education, for example. But the Texas GOP has also stated, in strong terms, complete opposition to abortion. It calls for the Voting Rights Act to be repealed; wants to see no-fault divorce laws abolished; demands that local budgets get stripped if they cut police funding; and wants prayer, the Bible and the Ten Commandments to return to public schools.

The platform opposes the teaching of racial history characterized as critical race theory, while also saying parents should have complete control over what their children are taught in schools. It does call for one curriculum requirement, saying that Texas schoolchildren must “learn about the humanity of the preborn child.”

“It was a particularly distilled statement of a number of currents in the contemporary Republican Party,” says Dan Hopkins, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist who has studied platforms.

Hopkins is coauthor of a recent paper finding that state party platforms – which used to have considerable regional distinctiveness, with Democrats in Michigan expressing different concerns than Democrats in California – have become both more nationalized and more polarized, not just on social issues but matters such as health care and education. “There are very few issues on which the parties were more polarized in their language in earlier eras than today,” according to Hopkins and his coauthors.

Hopkins underscores the importance of the Texas Republican Party – the dominant party in one of the largest states – denying the validity of the 2020 election. “One of the fundamental hallmarks of democratic governance is that the losing party acknowledges that it lost,” he says. “Both parties have a reasonable expectation they can win again in the future.”

What was once among the most anodyne statements possible in politics has become among the most charged. Even as the Jan. 6 committee continues to hold hearings making clear that many of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers recognized he had lost, denial of that fact has become a central tenet for Republican candidates in party primaries this year. “Texas Republicans rightly have no faith in the 2020 election results, and we don’t care how many times the elites tell us we have to,” Matt Rinaldi, the Texas Republican Party chair, said in a statement.

State party platforms used to serve as a brake on polarization, says University of California, Berkeley political scientist Eric Schickler, one of Hopkins’ collaborators. They were crafted by party leaders who were pragmatic, concerned more with keeping patronage machines well-oiled than offering blunt ideological statements. Today’s parties are more interested in signaling where they’d dearly like to go. “The people who are most involved in state and local politics are the same people who are engaged in hot-button national issues,” Schickler says.

Platforms aren’t policy. There’s nothing the Texas GOP can do about the Federal Reserve, for example, other than express an opinion. But, given the reality of American politics, in which there are no real alternatives to the two major parties, their internal dynamics and position statements matter a lot.

There’s nothing that forces a party to take any kind of stand on any particular issue. What goes into platforms is what activists, interest groups and officeholders most want to see. In Texas, the long-dominant Republican Party clearly has no fear that taking extreme positions on contentious issues could hurt its candidates in the fall. “They’re typically statements that can command broad support within the party, and they’re statements the party doesn’t see as significant political liabilities,” Hopkins says. “The Texas GOP does not see these as liabilities.”

South Dakota state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg
South Dakota state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg
Attorney General Impeached: Jason Ravnsborg, the attorney general of South Dakota who fatally struck a man with his car in 2020, was convicted on two charges by the state Senate on Tuesday.

Ravnsborg killed a man named Joseph Boever on Sept. 12, 2020. He called 911 but said he didn’t know what he’d hit, suggesting he might have struck a deer. In a plea deal, Ravnsborg agreed to pay $1,000 in fines for driving while using a mobile device and driving in an improper lane. He has served no time but agreed last fall to an undisclosed settlement with Boever’s widow.

Now, he has been removed from office and will be barred from running in the future. “After nearly two years the dark cloud over the attorney general’s office has been lifted,” said Gov. Kristi Noem. “It is now time to move on and begin to restore confidence in the office.”

Conviction required two-thirds votes. A majority of Senate Republicans voted against impeaching Ravnsborg. Some apparently wondered whether he was being punished for making the wrong enemies, having investigated ethics complaints against Noem and pursuing but later dropping a child pornography case against a South Dakota billionaire.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)
Mayors for Life: Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday, effectively guaranteeing that she’ll win a third term in the fall. She’ll be the city’s longest-serving mayor since Marion Barry served four nonconsecutive terms from the 1970s into the 1990s. As Barry was, Bowser is now sometimes stuck with the slightly derisive sobriquet “mayor for life.”

But D.C. mayors have nothing on Milwaukee’s. When Cavalier Johnson was elected mayor in April, he became just the fourth man to win that office since 1960. While working on a profile of Johnson, I asked lots of people in Milwaukee why the city stands by its mayors for so long. There was nothing like consensus.

Some people thought that there was a deeply rooted feeling of satisfaction dating back to the early 20th-century days of the “sewer socialists” who both cleaned up City Hall and improved the city’s sanitation and infrastructure. Just before the election, however, Marquette University political scientist Philip Rocco argued the opposite in an online essay, saying most voters tuned out entirely from mayoral contests because municipal leadership has failed to serve their interests.

What seems most likely is simple mechanics. Milwaukee holds a “jungle” primary, with all candidates appearing on the same ballot. That allows candidates who can command a sizable niche to advance to the runoff — which takes place less than two months later, leaving little time to broaden support.

No incumbent Milwaukee mayor has lost since 1940. It’s not hard to imagine that Johnson, who is only 35, could still be in office in 2040, or well beyond.

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Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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