“Big Wheel” Turning in Texas


You think I am your possession
you´re Messing with a Southern girl

— Tori Amos, “Big Wheel,”
Austin, TX 7/25/09

After reading the headline below, I feel like my Oil Field Girls spotlight last weekend was a bit prescient. When I visualized “all of us brazen little hussies at the grassroots hitching a ride out of our politically regressive environs,” little did I know that just a week later I’d get to tell you about the formation of a bipartisan coalition of Texan women legislators in response to an all new low in the war on women in our state. This is beyond politics and parties. It’s women in government speaking up as individuals, as citizens, speaking for all of us to say, “Enough is enough!”

Via the Houston Chron blog — Prominent House lawmakers create ‘Women’s Caucus’:

“To the Women of the Texas Legislature:

“This legislative session has brought to light the varying attitudes toward women and the issues important to women. We may not agree with each other on every issue, nor should we, but we can agree that we need a forum that facilitates our ability to unite on issues. It is with this sentiment that we are forming the Women’s Caucus.

“We want to create the framework for current and future women legislators to get their messages heard, to seek guidance from experienced leaders, and to unite on issues important to all of us.”

Republican "family values" on display once again

The above was written by Houston representatives Beverly Woolley (R), Senfronia Thompson (D), and Carol Alvarado (D).

Let’s hear it for us Houston chicas!

The letter comes in the aftermath of despicable fliers that were created by the Texas Civil Justice League (the state’s oldest tort reform lobbying group). The fliers made their way around the House chambers last week.

There was another flier that depicted a baby pacifier, but the one that really got the wheel turning is the one that appears here, above to the right.

It shows a child suckling a bare breast, to campaign against what the flier refers to as “Nanny State” amendments to H.B. 2093.

From the bill’s official description:

“Relating to the operation and regulation of certain consolidated insurance programs.”

It’s an insurance bill. It doesn’t have anything to do with scary girl parts… except of course in the fevered imaginations of conservative men.

Note: TCJL president and general counsel E. Lee Parsley sent out an e-mail to the Texas House apologizing for showing “poor judgment” in giving the bare breast flier to someone outside the organization who then distributed it. Parsley claims he had rejected the concept. He didn’t destroy the copies, however. And, he doesn’t appear to have regretted the pacifier ad at all.

Seems like he’s just sorry he got caught. The TCJL has apparently suspended Parsley and communications director Cary Roberts, pending an investigation.

With the damage already done from the distribution of the fliers, Women in the Texas House pushed back.

On Thursday, Rep. Senfronia Thompson–author of H.B. 2093 and dean of women legislators in Texas–delivered an impassioned, righteous protest on the floor (see youtube to the right) which you really need to view if you haven’t already.

From a transcript via a comment at feministing:

“During this legislative session we’ve spent about 30 or 40 percent of our time kicking the reproductive organs of women down the road. And I thought that that was an issue that we had finished and completed.I want to attest to the fact that kicking the women’s can down the road…it’s still being kicked.” –Rep. Thompson

Rep. Carol Alvarado also joined in with a bipartisan group of women behind her:

“We have had almost 50+ amendments or bills come across this floor this session that I think have demeaned women, but this one takes us to an all-time low, would you say that is correct, Ms. Thompson?” –Rep. Alvarado

To which Thompson replied:

It is an all-time low, and I personally tell you this. This is not a technique to get this bill passed or concur, I don’t care if you kill this bill. I want you to remember one thing that I’m saying today: I don’t appreciate this attack on women, I don’t appreciate this flyer! I want to tell you something: I don’t perpetrate violence against somebody, but if they were here I’d probably bloody their nose, right here on this floor, I guarantee you that. And Doctor, I’d have to call you to their aid, and I’m not joking. I would bloody their nose because they have no right to do women this way. And we have not earned this disrespect in this house! We get elected just like you do, and we have not earned this kind of disrespect. I don’t want to tolerate it by anybody! And men, if you don’t stand up for us today, don’t you walk in this chamber tomorrow.

At the end, Tomball representative and tea partier Debbie Riddle called Rep. Thompson a “hero” and then asked an eyebrow-raising question:

“Do you think that this has become standard operating procedure by some because of what goes on in this House with the way some of the men have treated some of the women with pornography on the floor of this House? Do you think that’s why this is acceptable, Miss T?” –Rep. Riddle

Riddle didn’t go any further, but Thompson’s reply to her was really diplomatic and priceless, just like her preceding remarks.

That’s what leadership looks and sounds like.

Turns out that Riddle was talking about an isolated incident of porn on a cellphone. Riddle declined to name the male legislator responsible for said incident.

The Dallas Voice’s Tammye Nash covered Rep. Thompson’s speech as well:

Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson — someone I have for whom immense admiration and respect for many reasons, not the least of which is her passionate support of LGBT rights — took a moment of personal privilege today on the House floor to let loose on the Texas Civil Justice League, which distributed fliers targeting Thompson HB 2093 which deals with insurance and contractors. Thompson wasn’t angry that the TCJL opposes her legislation. What made her mad was the photo on the flier: a close up of an breastfeeding infant over which were written the words “Don’t expand the nanny state.”

[…]

But it wasn’t just the Texas Civil Justice League that bore the brunt of Thompson’s anger. She also criticized the male members of the House for allowing and even perpetuating an atmosphere of such disrespect toward women to exist in the first place that the flier was even produced in the first place.

The Austin Chronicle calls what’s been going on in the Texas legislature the “Worst. Session. Ever.”:

Well the liberal media now has its sound bites–82nd Leg. most racist and sexist Leg. in history! This whole thing is disgusting! #txlege”

Hey, don’t blame us. We didn’t say it. That was Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville. But after yesterday’s explosion of porn, infighting and collapsed deals, it may be the best car crash session ever.

The Texas Tribune’s Emily Ramshaw and Kate Galbraith are asking… Is There a Boys Club Under the Pink Dome?:

(pink dome is a reference to our Capitol)

Last session, when then-freshman Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, raised a parliamentary question about a male colleague’s bill, she says he said — growled really — “Don’t talk to me like that, little lady.” A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, and Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, faced literal catcalls when they got into a heated debate over a payday lending bill. “Meow,” some lawmakers screeched, as the chairman reprimanded the women: “Ladies, please keep this civil.”

Is there sexism in the Texas Legislature?

This week’s flap over a flyer showing an infant nursing at a bare breast — an interest group’s effort to portray an insurance bill as an attempt to help turn Texas into a “nanny state” — has rekindled this age-old discussion.

The current Nanny State flier fiasco reminds former Houston representative Debra Danburg of her efforts to reform Texas rape laws in the eighties and nineties:

When she introduced a bill in the 1980s to strengthen rape laws, she said that some male lawmakers appeared at the back microphone, arguing, “If I can’t rape my wife, who can I rape?”

Ramshaw and Gailbraith also report that some of the men in the Texas House are meeting to “discuss gender issues”:

As for the men, they appear to be making some adjustments in light of the “nanny state” incident. When asked what he meant when he told the lower chamber on Thursday that some male House members would meet to discuss gender issues, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, joked, “The first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club.” He confirmed that a bipartisan coalition of male lawmakers is “putting their minds together” to find effective ways to make sure interest groups know such imagery is completely inappropriate — but also to take a closer look at how behavior and discourse on the House floor, which he said sometimes “pushes the line,” is perceived.

“We want [Thompson] to know we have her back,” said Martinez Fischer, who brought his 2-year-old daughter with him onto the House floor on Friday. “She doesn’t need that — she’s the toughest member of the House. But we need to make sure to deter that kind of behavior. And we all have an example to set.”

I hope the daughters of all these male legislators follow in the tradition of Texan feminist muckrakers. Women in Texas are not to be messed with, especially when we join forces together from across both parties. We are not your chattel.


9 Comments on ““Big Wheel” Turning in Texas”

  1. dakinikat says:

    wow, very interesting! Thx for this wonk!!!!

  2. Seriously says:

    Um…that’s amazing. I almost can’t believe that actually happened. 🙂

    • It’s incredible, isn’t it? The “kicking the women’s can down the road” has gotten that absurd over here…Like I said last weekend, something had to give.

  3. Branjor says:

    What took them so long?

    • The Rock says:

      HONK!

      Hillary 2012

      • It’s sad there was a void to be filled in the first place (re: Women’s Caucus), but it certainly gives perspective on all the horrid policy debates we’ve been having on the backs of women this legislative season. We’re not even second class citizens to these neanderthals, we’re just the sum of our reproductive parts.

  4. Minkoff Minx says:

    Hey, that movie quote…about fight club. There were no women allowed in that club remember?

    This is a great post Wonk. So all this happened on Friday, right? And there is no session tomorrow because of the holiday…so I can’t wait to see what happens on Tuesday.