Texas has long been a colorful state when it comes to politics and larger-than-life political figures. Gov. Ann Richards, who gave her famous speech at the 1988 Democratic Convention, lampooning George H.W. Bush for being born “with a silver foot in his mouth,” was one. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, famous for his intimidating style of negotiation that often bent legislators to his will, was one. And Sam Rayburn, a lion of the House of Representatives who served as Speaker for 17 years, was another. There are hundreds more people, be they politicians or citizens, who have defined this state as a place of character and a state which is, in many ways, is an example for the nation. Unfortunately, several of our state’s current elected members of Congress and the Legislature have begun the undoing of that cultivated image in misguided attempts at governing.
Among the more notorious of these politicians is Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican U.S. congressman from Texas’ first district. He once lamented the fact that homosexuals were allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military, worrying about our soldiers’ combat readiness by alluding to ancient Greece: "If you're sitting around getting massages all day ready to go into a big, planned battle, then you're not going to last very long.”
These comments beg the question of just how out of the mainstream Gohmert is. But, a few weeks ago, Gohmert went even further. In a speech on the House floor about the possibility of a United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood, Gohmert intimated that President Obama was threatening the existence of Israel, concluding his remarks by saying: “Does that make the United States leaders that facilitate [a Palestinian UN vote], does that make them accessories [to the destruction of Israel]?”
But don’t worry, Gohmert was only asking — clearly, no offense was meant. But if you look at President Obama’s statements and actions concerning Israel, you will see that he has aggressively supported the state during the entirety of his administration, despite some public disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Gohmert, of course, felt the need to ask. And why shouldn’t he? Clearly, he has the depth of knowledge on the Middle East that our president is lacking.
I would not have an issue with Gohmert if he were not an elected member of Congress. Imagine this: a congressional district comprising 300,000 Americans decided that Gohmert, who claims the democratically elected president of the United States could have terrorist sympathies for supporting Palestine, is the right person for the job. There are out-of-the-norm views and then, several leagues away, sits Gohmert.
I wish I could say that Gohmert’s actions were completely out of the norm for Texas politicians. As evidenced by the last session of the Texas Legislature, they are not. Possibly the most cartoon-worthy incidents in the Legislature were instigated by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) and his political opponents. Stickland was reprimanded for attaching a sign to his office declaring himself a “former fetus,” which was widely mocked before being torn down. He was also once involved in an incident where another member of the House dangled a cookie in front of him, seeming to lure him away from the podium in a cruel mockery of his weight. Stickland was also a nuisance to normal House procedures, an annoying roadblock to single district bills that did not concern him or his constituents and guilty of nearly getting into a fistfight with another representative on the House floor.
Not only did Stickland and opponents embroil themselves in some embarrassing conduct, but the Texas Legislature as a whole focused on and passed legislation that was almost ludicrous when one takes into account what Texans really need. Instead of fully addressing Texas’ education crisis or fully funding the litany of crucial infrastructure projects in the state, the House and Senate took up enormous amounts of time debating and amending bills legalizing concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. Sure, our leaders passed some good legislation this session, including Gov. Abbott’s promising early childhood education bill. But unfortunately, the legislative session was often dominated by talk of unnecessary gun legislation.
Texas politics are supposed to be colorful. But, this state’s elected leaders must remind the nation why Texas is so great, not give reasons to make jokes. If Texan leaders are serious about creating jobs and promoting business in our state, they should not only create a business-friendly environment but a people-friendly environment as well. Texas deserves more leaders like Ann Richards, Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Baines Johnson — men and women whose intelligence, strength and effectiveness helped to define Texas as a place of radical egalitarianism and strong moral character.
Fountain is a government senior from Pelham, New York.