Shock-jock senator tunes out left, turns off right
For American politics in 2007, the focus is largely on the Democratic Party’s sweep into power on a wave of Republican corruption and failed policy. But just to the west of Rice, the deep-red District 7 bucked the trend, electing conservative talk radio host Dan Patrick to the Texas Senate.
Patrick goes beyond the talk radio stereotype of the millionaire egocentric self-promoter who repeats the xenophobic talking points that allow white, middle-age males to think they are an oppressed minority. On air, Patrick cornered the market on attacking not just the usual political enemies — the growing Hispanic population and Democrats — but going after moderate Republicans who did not see policy differences as personal differences. This style has made Patrick more enemies than a satirically racist Backpage editor — but it has also brought him fame, fortune and electoral victory.
Now Patrick will try to bring his slash-and-burn politics from Houston’s radio waves to the Texas Senate, and very few people are happy, including Patrick’s fellow Republicans. Former state Senator Jon Lindsay, whom Patrick is replacing, has expressed extreme doubts about Patrick. “I think he would be terrible in the Senate,” Lindsay said in an interview with the Texas Observer. “He’d be a difficult person for the lieutenant governor and the leadership to work with.”
After all, Patrick is going to have a hard time working with his self-declared enemies.
Even members of the radically right-wing forum freerepublic.com are uncomfortable with Patrick, with a user by the alias of RedWhiteBlue lamenting: “I also don’t enjoy listening to him on the radio. It”s [sic] his tone, or something … like he’s talking down to everyone.” Freerepublic.com is no place for bipartisanship, and often blocks members who express views contrary to the majority opinion. The simple fact that commenters there view Patrick as going too far should be a warning to the rest of the Senate.
Patrick’s rage stems from the Senate rules themselves: Two-thirds of the 31 Senators must approve before a bill can be considered on the floor. Like most rules in the Texas government, its original purpose was to slow the legislative process and tend Texas towards small government. However, this rule also encourages cooperation and ensures that no matter who is in the majority, the minority’s voice will always be heard. In other words, Republicans and Democrats have to work together. But against the opinion of even his own party, Patrick is attempting to destroy this rare civility of the Texas Senate and replace it with all the dignity and common sense of shock-jock talk radio.
Patrick only has to look across the capitol to see the consequences of ruling with an iron gavel. Texas State Speaker of the House Tom Craddick just had to face off a challenge from fellow Republican Jim Pitts. Craddick’s strong-arm tactics of forcing votes and shutting out any minority opinion have finally caught up with him. Now Republicans and Democrats alike are uniting to elect a Speaker who will give every member a full and equal voice.
More importantly, Patrick should remember that Craddick was the first Republican Speaker in over a century. Political winds are fickle, and what may benefit Republicans now can be a later tool of parliamentary revenge. After all, Republicans in Washington are kicking themselves for not passing Nancy Pelosi’s minority party bill of rights when they had the chance.
In the end, Patrick will probably end up learning a lesson in political enemy-making not from Republicans or Democrats, but from his own constituents. In only a few years, the rising Hispanic middle class may start to call Patrick’s suburban district their home. And I am sure they would rather tune their political radios to someone who did not make his career blaming Hispanic immigrants for the collapse of civilization.
Evan Mintz is a Hanszen College junior and opinion and Backpage editor.
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