by Brian Roberts

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott

Will the real constitutional champions in Texas please stand up? Lately we have our share of pretenders, talkers and chest-beaters in the Texas leadership. The TSA anti-groping bill inspired perfect examples of Texas leaders with big words followed by treacherous action, and treacherous action followed by blame games. It’s like a political game of musical chairs. Who’s going to be the poor dope left standing between angry Texans and the federal government, defending the indefensible?

Nothing highlights this dereliction of duty greater than the big-three leaders of the Texas government: Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Speaker of the House Straus and Gov. Perry. All three took noticeable steps to ignore, hinder and ultimately block the passage of the anti-groping TSA legislation. The TSA  bill is popular with the Texas people, has the votes in the house and the senate, was legally reviewed by Texas Attorney General Abbot, and written to protect Texans from molestation at the hands of TSA employees and federal violations of the Fourth Amendment.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst delivered the first blows, destroying the passage of the original anti-groping legislation. This began in earnest with the federal government’s threat that new federal restrictions would make Texas a no-fly zone if lawmakers passed the legislation. The bill had the votes needed when the threats were made. Although the federal government’s claims were Constitutionally-challenged, Dewhurst immediately buckled, taking the wind out of the sails just days before the vote was scheduled in the Texas Senate.

The 2011 Texas legislative session finished in late May, leaving the TSA bill unanimously passed in the Texas house, but with a no-vote in the Texas senate. In other words, the clock ran out and the bill laid dead in the general session. Texas Sen. Dan Patrick pinned the blame for the lack of action squarely on Lt. Governor Dewhurst’s shoulders:

“There’s no one against this bill except for the federal government and our lieutenant governor.”

Unfortunately, Patrick was incorrect in assuming Dewhurst didn’t have powerful allies in other parts  of the Texas leadership. Immediately following the general session, Gov. Perry called for a special session. Viewing this as his opportunity to pass the buck, Dewhurst officially requested that Gov. Perry add the anti-groping legislation to the special session. For the next weeks, Texas citizens acting as individuals and organized as grassroots groups tirelessly called and wrote Gov. Perry, demanding he add the bill to the special session in order to protect Texans’ Constitutional rights.

Gov. Perry chose to delay adding the TSA bill; and, instead of using the bully pulpit of the governorship to speak out against the unacceptable actions of the TSA, he remained silent on the issue. When video captured an exchange that highlighted the governor’s intention to ignore the bill based on “not enough votes” or “not enough time” (both inaccurate assessments), the political pressure became too strong, possibly putting his soon-to-be-announced presidential run in jeopardy. So with only days left, Gov. Perry added the TSA anti-groping legislation to the special session. An action met with grassroots applause.

Enter Speaker of the House Joe Straus. Straus stood as an enemy of freedom and small government in Texas politics for some time. In January, liberty groups fought tooth and nail to prevent Straus from retaining the speakership. These groups knew from past experience that Straus was not a friend of Texas or liberty. So it was natural for Straus to take sides with the Obama administration and the federal government against his fellow Texans, unilaterally proclaiming the TSA bill a “publicity stunt”.

Texas Rep. David Simpson challenged this claim, saying:

“I’m curious whether the Speaker thinks that the Bill of Rights is a publicity stunt? Did the framers of the Constitution of the State of Texas and the Constitution of the United States write in protections against unreasonable search and seizure in order to be cute?”

Although the big-three in the Texas leadership often choose to ignore federal usurpations, many Texas representatives closer to the people continue to work tirelessly, wielding the power of the Tenth Amendment to halt federal overreach. Rep. Simpson is clearly one of these. Another champion of the TSA anti-groping bill is Sen. Dan Patrick, who recently made the following statement after the addition of the TSA bill to the special session:

“On the TSA bill I told the press ‘we’re back in business’ The people’s voice has been heard in Austin. Thanks for the literally thousands of calls & e-mails. This is a Come & Take It Moment again for Texas. If you don’t know our history on that, google it. Once again Texas will take a stand that will reverberate around the nation. The bill should come to the Senate for a vote by the end of the week.”

But at the time of this writing, the bill is still held up in the Texas House and will likely require modifications before finding its way to the Senate. It’s also a battle against time, as the clock is ticking down in this special session. Perhaps, like Dewhurst, running out the clock is Straus’ strategy. If that happens and Perry doesn’t call a second special session with specific emphasis on the TSA anti-groping legislation, we will know, without doubt, where he stands as well.

Of the three, Gov. Perry still has a chance to redeem himself. But that redemption must start with action in Texas, not words on the presidential campaign trail. The TSA bill will likely prove to be a litmus test for Perry’s upcoming presidential bid based on state sovereignty. Perry needs action to support the Tenth Amendment premise of his book, “Fed Up”.

The legislative path of Texas’ TSA bill has been a roller coaster of lies and deceit. In order to challenge a federal government that consistently breaks Constitutional limitations states must find the will and the leadership to reject all actions that lack respect for state sovereignty and federalism. With the TSA bill, Texas tapped into the will of the people and the will of most state representatives. However, Texas’ top leaders are not leading the legislation to victory. To date, the big three of Texas leadership have been enemies of the TSA bill through mere inaction, and as needed, direct action against the passage of the bill. It is more than likely other wolves lie ahead hidden in sheep’s clothing ready to sink their teeth into this bill if needed. Godspeed.

The TSA’s continued ability to grope our loved ones and defy our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment must be pretty strategically important, indeed.

Brian Roberts [send him email] is communications director for the Texas Tenth Amendment Center

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