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The Fact That Texas House Speaker Straus Is Jewish Is An Issue With Some Conservatives

There is a fight taking place about who should be the next Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

The incumbent Speaker, Republican Joe Straus, was elected two years ago with the help of Democrats in the House.

With Republicans gaining many seats in this month’s election, some Republicans are calling for someone they feel would a more conservative Speaker to take the office from Mr. Straus.

Speaker Straus is Jewish.

Not surprisingly given the people involved in this contest , the fact that the Speaker is Jewish is becoming an issue in the race.

From TV Station KENS in San Antonio

“….a new series of attacks is coming from the Religious Right, with Straus’ religion used against him. On his blog, Texas Capitol Reporter Harvey Kronberg reports that robo calls have begun in parts of the state. The voice on the calls tells people to support a “true Christian speaker.” Joe Straus is Jewish. Furthermore, the Republican Liberty Caucus has come out in support of North Texas Republican Ken Paxton (R-McKinney), citing a New Testament Bible verse in its original endorsement. That verse has since been removed from the group’s officially posted endorsement.”

The Jewish Herald Voice is concerned. This newspaper has written about Jewish life in Houston and in Texas since 1908.

Jews have a long history in Texas.

From the excellent Handbook of Texas Online

“No aspect of nineteenth-century Texas history is without the involvement of committed Jewish Texans. Adolphus Sterne of Nacogdoches served as alcalde, treasurer, and postmaster in 1826, Albert Moses Levy was surgeon in chief in the revolutionary army in 1835, Jacob and Phineas De Cordova sold land and developed Waco, Simon Mussina founded Brownsville in 1848, Henri Castro founded several towns, Michael Seeligson was elected mayor of Galveston in 1853, Rosanna Osterman funded significant religious and charitable activities through her will, Sid Samuels and Belle Doppelmayer were in the first graduating class at the University of Texas in 1881, Olga B. Kohlberg started the first public kindergarten in Texas in 1893, and Morris Lasker was elected to the state Senate in 1895. Jews also established themselves in Beaumont, Brenham, Corsicana, Gainesville, Hempstead, Marshall, Palestine, Texarkana, Tyler, Port Arthur, Wichita Falls, Baytown, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, New Braunfels, McAllen, Alice, Amarillo, Columbus, Wharton, Giddings, Navasota, Crockett, Lubbock, Longview, Jefferson, San Angelo, and Schulenburg.”

A great book to learn about Jewish History in Texas is Lone Stars of David–The Jews of Texas.

An ongoing exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science  is called Forgotten Gateway—Coming To America Through Galveston Island. A portion of this interesting exhibit is about how Jews were often denied entry into America through Galveston for no other reason but that they were Jewish. The program runs through February 20, 2011.

The photo below is of the Beth Yeshuran Jewish cemetery in Houston. The large grave in the middle of the photo is that of Private Nathan Pizer. Private Pizer was a United States Marine who was killed in action in France during WW I.

Jewish folks have long served our nation.

It makes no difference what religion anybody is when it comes to who can serve in public office. We must remain vigilant. So-called states rights views, now all the rage in Texas and elsewhere , have long been associated with intolerance and injustice.

We can either fight back against this un-American behavior, or we can see the years of our lives wasted by extremists who refuse to acknowledge the outcome of the Civil War.

Political independents who often vote for candidates of both parties need to please consider what they will be getting from Texas Republicans over the next two years.


November 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Will Progressives And Progressive Groups In Houston And Across Texas Speak Up And Mobilize In Advance Of The Upcoming Arizona-Style Immigration Bill In The Texas Legislature?—I Would Not Bet Very Much That They Will

Leading members of the current Republican majority in the Texas legislature say that an Arizona-style immigration law will be at the top of the agenda of the next session of the Texas legislature.

The Texas legislature will convene again on January 11, 2011.

From the Houston Chronicle—

“Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, said he expects a “huge push” for immigration reform. “If the Legislature were to choose an Arizona-style path to go down, then I do believe that the emotions will run very high,” he said. It is important, he said, that lawmakers have public hearings and review the issue before deciding a course. “We need to be very cautious. We need to be mindful of all of the concerns among the public. But, above all, we would be mistaken as a legislative body were we to choose to ignore the issue entirely in favor of other issues,” he said. “The voting public here in Texas has made it clear that immigration is one of its top concerns, and, as such, I think legislators of both parties are obligated and have a responsibility to address the issue.” (Texas House Speaker Joe) Straus spokeswoman Tracy Young said, “Speaker Straus agrees with Gov. (Rick) Perry that the heart of the issue is the immediate need to focus on border security and the safety of Texans, and that the federal government should do its job.” Legislators next year will face severe budget problems, divisive redistricting, school funding troubles and reviews of major state agencies, including the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Insurance.”

Here is the full Chronicle article. The article makes it clear that the Tea Party is calling the shots for Texas Republicans.

It’s funny in a way because you can tell here that Senator Carona, Speaker Straus and Governor Perry really don’t want this fight.  Those guys would sell out their core voters in a moment to keep the cheap labor in Texas and to avoid national controversy that could upset the business climate in Texas. These cats are bought and paid for by corporate money.  These top Republicans also know that whenever Hispanics do get around to voting in strong numbers in Texas, they will remember  who treated them as human beings and who treated them as criminals. Texas is one of four majority-minority states in the union and the future here is not with the Tea Party.

This is part of what makes the Tea Party folks in Texas so angry all the time. They know that any victory they gain in Texas is just delaying the inevitable change in what it means to be a Texan.

That said, Texas Republicans have announced months in advance that they will be going after people of Hispanic origin in our state.

The core issue is not immigration. It is about race and culture.

Will progressive forces in Houston and in Texas now speak-up mobilize to meet this challenge? We’ve been given plenty of warning.  A threat to the freedom of one person is a threat to the freedom of all people.

How about the Texas NAACP? Maybe they can get some money to start an effort of all-races solidarity from the “corporate advisory board” listed on the side the Texas NAACP web home. I’m sure Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Dell would like to help.

How about the Houston NAACP?

How about the folks who saw the election of Annise Parker as Mayor of Houston as a victory for human rights?

Here is the web home of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

The rights of all people are connected.

How about Mayor Parker? Mayor Parker got her start in politics fighting for human rights.  What would Hispanics owe the Mayor if she remains silent when her voice is most needed?

Mayor Parker’s campaign web page has a whole list of local progressives and progressive groups that could help lead the fight against an Arizona type immigration law in Texas.

What about Democrats on Houston City Council? Wouldn’t be it something if they met in caucus on a regular basis and offered a vision for Houston’s future?

That sure would be something.

Will the Hispanic community mobilize in the face of this threat?

Will folks on our side of the aisle speak up or will they remain silent?

I’m betting that for the most part silence will carry the day.

If we can easily ignore a nearly 50% child poverty rate in Houston, I figure we can ignore pretty much anything.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Majority Should Elect Speaker Of Texas House

Tom Craddick, an autocratic far-right extremist, has been deposed as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. He does not have the votes within the House to win election for another term as Speaker.

The Texas House has 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats 

Two candidates, both Republicans, appear to remain as the options for election by the House as Speaker. One candidate is Joe Straus of San Antonio. The other is John Smithee of Amarillo.

( Update—Mr. Smithee has pulled out and the race appears to be over. While it’s a crazy process we have here in Texas, let’s hope that Mr. Straus is really change for the better.)

Mr. Straus appears the more moderate of the two choices. The overwhelming majority of the 74 House Democrats have pledged to support his bid. He also has the support of as many 16 Republicans. Mr. Smithee has the support of the clear majority of Republican members, but few, if any, Democrats. As it stands now, the numbers favor Mr. Straus.  

It’s quite possible the elevation of Mr. Straus would move the House away from the right and towards the center. Mr. Smithee appears to be a Craddick-lite option. 

Yet on Election Day last November, Texans elected a majority of Republicans to the House. That is what was decided at the ballot box. It is the majoroty Republican party that should decide who serves as Speaker.

I believe in political parties. They provide a shorthand for voters to sift through the great number of often complex issues any modern governing body faces. It’s nearly impossible for a person who has to work for a living, or who has a family to raise, to have a clear sense of all the issues up for debate at any given point.

On Election Day, ideally, we look at what party a candidate represents, as well as his or her stands on the issues most important to us and our fellow citizens. 

We know that a Democrat from a rural area may have different views on some questions than a Democrat from an urban area. We know that a Republican from Maine may have conflicting views in contrast to a Republican from Alabama. But we also know that in many cases there is a set of core values that informs members of the same political party regardless of other differences. 

We also know, or trust, that when it comes to organizing a legislative chamber, members of the same party will come together to elect a Speaker and other officers. 

Where party structure breaks down, what’s left is behind-the-scenes deal cutting that is often far less transparent than party ID.  When things go wrong, voters are left to guess where to place the blame as legislators hide under whatever label or excuse suits them at the moment.

It’s bad enough that our Texas legislature meets only once every two years. Or that members are not paid a living wage so only a well-connected few can serve. Or that a one-third minority can hold up action in the State Senate. The least we can ask is that the parties we vote for, and the men and women who represent these parties and the ideas behind the parties, act in a coherent and accountable way once seated in Austin.

Once a legislative session begins, members can easily work across the aisle on various bills and proposals. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a basic coherence must exist in the structure of a legislative chamber for voters to be able to make sense of the records of both political parties and individaul members.

Here’s hoping that between now  and the opening of the legislative session on January 13,  the majority party as elected by the people of Texas gets its’ act together.

This is the position I will hold on that better day, not so far in the future,when Democrats control the Texas House.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment