What’s the Emergency?

by Dan Quinn

Both the Texas House and Senate have now released initial budgets intended to cover a massive state fiscal deficit that experts have placed as high as $27 billion. Cuts outlined in those budgets could mean the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in education — one lawmaker describes the effect on public schools as “Armageddon.” The budgets also include drastic cuts in critical state services, such as health care, public safety and criminal justice. And that’s only part of the terrible fiscal bloodbath facing the state.

But Gov. Rick Perry has spent the last few weeks declaring as “emergencies” a long list of divisive issues that appeal to his base of hard-right supporters. Legislators will be able to take those issues up quickly because of the “emergency” declaration. And what are those supposed “emergencies”? Voter ID. Outlawing “sanctuary” cities. Passing a symbolic resolution calling for a federal balanced budget amendment. And forcing women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram first.

Even the editorial board of the San Angelo Standard-Times — you know, out in liberal West Texas — has been critical of the governor’s misplaced priorities:

“Political calculations are at least as old as the democratic form of government, but rarely are they so undisguised. For whatever reason, Perry apparently wants to shine up the far right, and those issues are the red meat he decided to serve up. . . .

A governor is supposed to lead. With his selection of priority issues, Perry has disappointed.”

Religious-right pressure groups are happy, however, praising the governor for wanting government to interfere in private reproductive health decisions made by a woman in consultation with her doctor. Never mind, of course, that those same groups and the governor constantly rail against what they see as intrusive government.

This is government by distraction, and Gov. Perry has become a master at it. Maybe that’s the real emergency facing Texas.