If Taxis Had Bathrooms... : Texas Data Points for the Week In Politics, May 13 2016

The Obama administration has jumped into the fight over how LGBT rights should be applied to bathrooms in public schools, which will no doubt enter the discussion at the State GOP convention and be a matter for the Lt. Governor to engage in a high profile way. In other less attention-grabbing news, Iran is testing missiles and the courts won't force the Texas Legislature to revamp the manner in which Texas schools are funded.  

1. Do I need a key to use your restroom?  Friday morning’s early headlines were dominated by the Obama administration’s forthcoming letter, per The New York Times, “telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.” The Obama administration clearly sees itself following the arc of history here, but the likely short- and medium-term impact of President Obama’s actions, despite incremental gains in his national approval level, will be to lock transgender rights into what was already becoming a very partisan frame. A majority of Republicans in Texas  acknowledge the presence of discrimination against transgendered individuals when asked as part of a large battery of questions probing perceptions of discrimination in the June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The combination of the headline-grabbing embrace of “bathroom protection” by Republican officials, the pushback against the backlash by both corporate and liberal groups, and now the association of the counter-reaction with the Obama administration seems likely to lead to some election-year reduction in preliminary signs of tolerance among Republicans. A recent CNN/ORC poll found attitudes running counter to a bathroom protection bill in North Carolina (which is likely to find imitators in some form in other states in the coming months and years, including in Texas). That same poll also found Republicans evenly split on the issue, but with the Obama administration clearly weighing in yesterday, the likely galvanization that this will produce among Republican officeholders, and the heat of a presidential election, don’t be surprised if this seeming ambivalence among the GOP electorate evaporates rather quickly.

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A lot of discrimination62%33%24%
Not very much7%7%19%
None at all3%11%12%
Don't know/No opinion5%9%6%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
A lot of discrimination27%20%13%
Not very much15%22%25%
None at all6%10%23%
Don't know/No opinion7%7%5%

2. He who shall not be named wants to leave it to the states. Speaking of the ability of the potential for the cultural politics of bathroom access to provide unity to an otherwise fractured GOP, the Republican Party of Texas is holding their convention in Dallas this week! Patrick Svitek did a pretty good job of laying out some of the matters on the table in The Texas Tribune, including the sharp-elbowed fight between Tom Mechler and Jared Woodfill to be the party chairman and the terms of the Texas GOP’s engagement to Donald Trump after the rest of the family chose him over Texas’ own Ted Cruz. On the whole, it would seem that the Trump Candidacy is likely to complicate the traditional RINO hunt that has made up the work of much of the convention in previous years. On Thursday, as covered in Quorum Report and elsewhere, Governor Greg Abbott called for GOP unity without mentioning the candidate by name, while Lt. Governor Patrick explicitly urged the crowd to get behind Trump.  Expect a great deal less problematic unity at the activist-dominated convention in bashing the federal government getting involved in traditional, local control of bathroom policy (in the schools no less – a twofer!)  Donald Trump wants to leave it to the states, which was even news in the UK -- that'll play in Dallas for now.  

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable4%12%23%
Somewhat favorable38%38%34%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable24%16%5%
Somewhat unfavorable24%23%18%
Very unfavorable11%9%18%
Don't know/no opinion0%1%3%

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categoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Very favorable14%22%23%
Somewhat favorable28%24%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable11%11%10%
Somewhat unfavorable27%20%15%
Very unfavorable19%22%25%
Don't know/no opinion1%1%1%

3.  Don't Make Me a Target. As previously noted in this space, Lt. Governor Patrick was at the head of the line on bathrooms in Texas – he put the bull's eye on Target last week and was therefore ready to pounce on the Obama Administration this week. In Texas, the success in Houston of the anti-HERO ordinance campaign, with its explicit focus on bathrooms, appears to have had a powerful demonstration effect on the political benefits of making this issue about the protection of daughters and wives rather than civil rights. Patrick was quick to call a press conference for Friday morning to be part of the early response to feds. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lt. Gov. on a Sunday talk show this weekend.

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Approve strongly6%14%29%
Approve somewhat35%29%32%
Neither approve nor disapprove35%32%20%
Disapprove somewhat8%6%3%
Disapprove strongly7%4%3%
Don't know10%14%13%

4.  #Spoileralert.  Proposition 1 – the City of Austin ballot measure that would have reversed a fingerprinting requirement for drivers and some other regulations of ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft – got run off the road in Austin despite being fueled by almost $9 million in spending in favor of the measure and the seeming potential to attract a coalition of the neo-weird in 21st century Austin. It wasn’t to be, as a good number of the usual suspects – that is, the constellation of voters one would normally expect to show up in an Austin May election – showed up to assert the city's unwillingness to let the ride share companies replace a city ordinance passed by the council with one promoted by the companies themselves. As it turns out, one of us called this wrong based on spending and the ever growing pile of mailers, and one of us was tentatively right about this based on expectations of the composition of the electorate. Republicans are appalled and much of Austin is awash in self-congratulation – not that it takes a lot to trigger such a flood. While not as sexy as protecting bathrooms, Republicans in the legislature, most prominently North of Austin Senator Charles Schwertner, are none the less lining up to protect the ride sharing companies from the misguided impulses of local government, who Republicans are portraying as perversely attached to cabs as Angie Dickinson was in Dressed to Kill. Since everything seems to have to be about “the bathroom issue” today, we should note that Brian De Palma’s prurient, irrational homage to/rip-off of Hitchcock is the presumptive nominee to become the Birth of the Nation of the resistance to LGBT protections. Anyway: you could probably tell it was Michael Caine from the first reel if you were paying attention.


5.  There might be paint on Mitch McConnell's keys. Ted Cruz announced he will run for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2018. You'd never know it from the appearance of his foreign policy focused New York Times op-ed on "Mullahs with Missiles" (someone was no doubt proud of that one in the Cruz writers’ room) appearing Friday while everyone else was focused on bathrooms. But even with the seeming bad luck of the timing of the NYT piece getting drowned out by the bathroom issue, it still has the appearance of trying to make nice with the Mean Girls in Congress: "I look forward to working with my congressional colleagues this week and in coming months," he purrs, "to make sure that President Obama’s failure to sufficiently fund Israel’s missile defense programs in his latest budget request is reversed." Defending Israel in the face of Obama's fecklessness is a nice way to appeal to the in-crowd, but he still has some work to do – and, of course, he’s not going to get any help from the only group that seems to like him less than his co-workers, the national media. The meme that dominated Cruz’s return to the Senate was an image of his insidery parking job upon his return to the Capitol, which in the end will produce a lot more coverage than his op-ed:

Stephen Colbert picked up on this, predictably burning Cruz (“Ted Cruz Could Go further to the right") before going in a pretty unexpected direction that draws on another trend in public opinion.

As we wrote last week, he’s in good shape back in Texas, and an early announcement forestalls whatever speculation there might have been about what’s next. But there’s a lesson here in just how fast things can go south on you.

6. Late Breaking but not official at press time: The Texas Supreme Court has upheld Texas’ system of funding public schools, concluding, according to Kiah Collier’s piece in The Texas Tribune, that “Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement. But it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements.” This will be a great disappointment to critics of the public school system, which seems even to include Justice Don Willett, who wrote the opinion. As we’ve written previously, there seems to be a willingness to spend more money on public schools, even among many Republican voters, at least in the abstract. But voters only sporadically punish candidates for stasis on public education. The legislature, of course, isn’t really into abstract thinking, and most of the adherents of realism there are going to feel like they dodged the bullet on this one, given anxiety about the fiscal health of the state going into the next session. Another question looms over all this: Is Justice Willett’s opinion still official if he hasn't Tweeted it yet to his 34K-plus followers?