I'd Like to Sincerely Apologize for Texas

Steve Russell

I owe the Indian nations and most of the United States an apology, because I’ve become a Texan. My family roots are in the Cherokee Nation, but I was raised just across the border in the Muscogee Creek Nation by grandparents who met on the Sac & Fox reservation back when it was still a reservation.

I was assigned to Baja Oklahoma by the military, lured by the University of Texas, and fell in love with Austin back when it was Tex-Mex and Shiner Beer and Willie Nelson.

Excuses, I know. Just excuses.

How about these excuses? I never voted for George W. Bush and I never voted for Rafael “Ted” Cruz. So why should I have to apologize? Regarding W, I said to anybody who would listen that even if the candidate were Ann Richards, being governor of Texas is not preparation to be POTUS.

Texas has a classic post-Reconstruction weak governor system. I can’t put the governor even in the top-three of people responsible for governing Texas. The governor is behind the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Comptroller of Public Accounts and the Inspector of Hides.

OK, I was joking about the Inspector of Hides, who as far as I know was in charge of regulating tanning booths like the Texas Railroad Commission is in charge of oil and gas. (The office was abolished by constitutional amendment in 2007, leaving Texas vulnerable to uninspected hides.)

My point is that the Texas governor does not have to make a budget or have a legislative program. The governor is without even a pocket veto—a bill passed but unsigned becomes law. Qualification to be POTUS is not tied to land area or GDP, and the required skill set for a Texas governor is too meager.

I assume qualifications still matter for that high office even though the claim to competence by the guy who leads in the Republican polls is making real estate deals and selling his brand...

We had two first-term senators running for POTUS this year and 20 years ago both of them would have been crackpots anywhere but the former Confederate states. Neither of them compare at all well to Barack Obama’s first term as a U.S. Senator. Obama did more legislating and, by the way, worked with Republicans like Tom Coburn and Dick Lugar.

But I digress from my mea culpa. Texas was, after all, a Confederate state, and it has moved so far to the right that a flaming liberal like George W. Bush would no longer have much of a base there. How far to the right has Texas moved?

Texas is the home of Rep. Joe Barton, famous for apologizing to BP because of the “shakedown” when President Obama’s administration wanted the transnational corporation to establish a fund for victims of the Macando oil spill. Only a socialist would think corporations have to clean up after their errors.

Texas is the home of Rep. Louis Gohmert, who nominated fellow lunatic Allen West for House Speaker after West had been defeated for reelection. Gohmert is known for asserting that oil pipelines are aphrodisiacs for caribou. He famously went off on a CNN reporter who had the gall to ask for evidence of Gohmert’s assertion that terrorists are coming into the U.S. pregnant so they can give birth to little terrorists with U.S. passports.

Texas is the state where the governor called out the State Guard to protect the citizens from Operation Jade Helm 15, a plot to overthrow state governments using weapons caches from defunct Walmarts. Of the Jade Helm threat, Rep. Gohmert opined, “patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned.”

Then there is Mary Lou Bruner, the leader going into the Republican runoff for Texas State Board of Education. Why should readers of this column care who sits on the Texas State Board of Education? Because that body selects textbooks for Texas public schools and, because of the size of the market, other states generally get to select only from books aimed at the Texas market. That is, Texas picks K-12 texts for much of the country.

That means science books skeptical of evolution are a given, but Bruner believes it to be historical fact that the KKK had noble roots standing up for law and order in the rural South. On Facebook, she has referred to President Obama as “Ahab the Arab” who “hates all white people.” I don’t know if she has noticed that would include his mother. Or that Arabs are “white people."

You might gather from this that Texas K-12 schools leave a lot to be desired. That is correct. However, the Texas Constitution mandates that the state support a “university of the first class” and dedicates a trust of public land for that purpose. As a result, Texas has two public research universities with international reputations: Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

Over the last 20 years or so, the legislature has opened the money spigots of the trust fund to the A&M and UT “systems,” creating a network of state-supported universities that is not supported to the level of the network of research universities that is the University of California system, but still provides opportunities for kids to start up the academic ladder. Texas has universities many states would envy at the top of a system that does not prepare K-12 students to take advantage of them.

UT was and is a football school, and the Longhorns won a national championship while I was there. I never attended a game because I thought football interfered with the all the reasons I wanted to be there. I also thought they should pay those guys.

Whenever a Longhorn varsity team in any sport, men’s or women’s, had a win, the UT Tower would be lit up orange. The tower went orange often, and I wondered whether that would happen to celebrate something important?

In 1977, Ilya Prigoine won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry… and they lit that sucker up! Yes! UT has had three Nobel Prize winners on faculty, and they are rock stars.

That rock-star status of Nobel winners made for an interesting situation when UT began to implement a new law allowing guns on campus in public universities. Private universities in the state could opt out of allowing students to pack heat, and most have.

The only living Nobel Laureate at UT is Steven Weinberg (Physics, 1979), and he has announced that he will not allow guns in his classroom. Even though he’s tenured, that’s a violation of the law, and he could be fired.

If I were teaching at UT, I would do the same thing – but I am not a Nobel Laureate, so it would be a lot easier to fire my ass. It did not escape my notice that when I taught at the San Antonio campus of the University of Texas and later at Indiana University, my classes dealt with highly controversial subjects. I’m betting my criminal justice students argued more heatedly than Weinberg’s students do in his physics classes.

I’ve never been a celebrity, but if I ever became one, I would enjoy using my fame for something useful. Keeping guns out of university classrooms strikes me as very useful.

Coming soon to a school shooting near you: student vigilantes returning fire while the police try to sort them out from the bad guys. I presume they won’t light the tower orange for that. Hook ‘em, Horns.

Lo siento mucho. Mea maxima culpa. I’m sorry.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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turbojesus's picture
Oh I figured you would like Texas so much. Especially UT. Isn't it your dream for one institution to force you to buy healthcare, run the hospital pharmacy, control education and what places you can eat, have it's own judicial system, enforce particular housing, all the while determining who exactly is okay to be there? Oh I mean it's also great that any campus police officer can enforce the laws of the country to their own standards. Have one institution control everything that's not collusion, or anything a lawyer would be concerned about.
swrussel's picture
The only problem I have contesting opinions with you, turbo, is that I'm proud enough of mine to put my real name on them and you apparently are not. Also, I'm not always sure what you are getting at, but I'll do my best. Yes, everyone should be forced to buy health insurance because of the iron law of insurance that the cost to all is determined by the size of the pool. That would also be why I wanted Obamacare to apply to undocumented workers---emergency room medical care is no cheaper for them than for citizens and I labor under the delusion that we are too good to let people die. As to the pharmacy, I don't know what you mean. If you mean that I favor the existence of the Food and Drug Administration, that would be correct. If you mean I consider it a tragedy that one of the deals Obama had to cut with the lobbyists left significant cost-lowering reforms out of Obamacare, that would be correct...but that's why it makes legislative sense to take the half loaf and come back for the rest, to quote one of the few times I agree with President Reagan. Not sure what you mean about housing, since I've always been in favor of open housing laws. Nor do I understand what institution you are talking about having it's own judicial system. Universities need systems for academic disputes. Churches and mosques need systems to enforce canon law and sharia. These are needs my court cannot meet for constitutional reasons but disputes still must be resolved. Then you seem to complain about entrance requirements for universities. I would be the wrong person to make that complaint to since I was admitted to UT without any high school record or entrance exam and I certainly would support my own admission. The ground was "individual approval" and I graduated magna cum laude and would have been summa cum laude if I had not gotten in an Indian beef with an anthropologist. Therefore, that magna cum laude is some evidence that the Dean of Admissions made a good decision in the public interest and did not merely change my life, though he did change my life. UT campus police officers are certified like any other officers but, like other officers, their authority outside their jurisdiction is limited to "hot pursuit" and the discretion they exercise is neither more nor less than any other law enforcement officer. Their hiring is based on similar qualifications, so I'm unclear the nature of your beef? Some of your remarks appear to be about UT but others could only apply to government generally, so I'm really scratching my head. Your point escapes me. If you are claiming UT is not "a university of the first class" I think you are wrong but I guess there are lots of folks in the Ivy League who would agree with you and if you are looking down on me from Harvard there's nothing I can do about having attended a public university. I'm too old for a Mulligan.
Brian Schafer's picture
Born in Pennsylvania but lived in four states and Europe since. Texas is the best place I've lived. Affordable to raise a family. Good weather (thank goodness for AC in the summer but other than 90 days a year, nice). Public charter schools allow parents to choose the best school for their kids, not "take it or leave it" like back in Maryland for an example. Finally, more jobs are moving here than everywhere else because our state government does a great job promoting and sustaining a robust economy. And they're moving from all the states Steve Russell likely approves of, failing blue states with high taxes where it's very expensive to raise a family, probably because he's never lived in one or tried to raise a family there.
Brian Schafer
swrussel's picture
Mr. Schafer, I've spent extending times in school in San Francisco, California and Reno, Nevada. Besides Texas and Oklahoma, I have resided in and experienced the taxation policies of Oregon, Wisconsin, and Indiana. My two big complaints about taxes here are the lack of a state income tax--which is both deductible on the federal tax return and puts most of your tax bill where you can see it--and the myriad ways Texas manages to clip you to hide a total load that is not greatly different that similar states. And while I have been careful not to fall into this, if you buy a house in a place where too many of the different kinds of taxing authorities authorized by state law overlap, you can get some nasty surprises on property taxes. If you consider a lack of regulation and leaving workers and consumers to fend for themselves and the air and water unprotected a great business climate, I can't contest that. K-12 education is pitiful, as most graduates who had to hit the ground running will tell you. I absolutely do favor more taxes and more services than you do, but your blanket statements about red v. blue states are nonsense as a matter of arithmetic rather than opinion. Ask Professor Google "red states and blue states federal money." The government of Texas is not responsible for the location of oil and gas. It can claim "credit" for not regulating production in the public interest. The endowment of the University of Texas is always nip and tuck with Harvard, depending on....the price of oil, which means UT is doing less well right now. If you live in Texas, you know the nutty stuff I cite in this op-ed is not only true--it's the tip of an iceberg of lunacy.
turbojesus's picture
yeah you wouldn't get it. Of course, there wouldn't be any conflict of interest in an institution that has your medical records, educational records, while being able to make it's own rules and enforce any state law. What about that texas university student that was killed unarmed by a campus police officer? What great educational system they have in texas. I don't know. You just seem to be against monopolistic or tyrannical practices yet seem to support one when it's part of your group like UT.
souldeep642's picture
What kind of a sanctimonious, arrogant twit writes something like this? He must actually think we care what he thinks...How typical and pathetic.