For Republicans, redistricting is a coveted opportunity to fracture Austin’s predominately liberal vote between safely conservative seats. But sometimes, their meddling backfires.
Shaped like a crude dragon, Texas’ new 21st congressional district stretches from the edge of Hill Country toward Austin before touching down in northern San Antonio. West Campus, parts of Red River and the majority of Downtown comprise the head of the beast.
Let’s meet UT’s new representative in Congress, Lamar Smith, R-Texas. Prepare to breathe fire.
A graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, Smith was elected to Congress in 1987 and hasn’t left since. During his extended stay, Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has blocked debate on ending Reagan’s War on Drugs, killed the Dream Act and tirelessly chipped away at the reproductive choice of American women.
Smith is most infamous, however, for authoring the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — an anti-piracy bill that would allow companies to petition a friendly judge for an order labeling websites with even one link to copyrighted material as “rogue.” This determination would require Internet service providers to block users from searching for or accessing such sites by name, while carrying a criminal penalty of up to five years.
Critics derided SOPA’s dangerously vague language as compromising Internet security and having a chilling effect on innovation. The coordinated response was as massive as it was unprecedented: On Jan. 18, Wikipedia and Reddit “went dark” in protest of the bill, and while Google collected more than 7 million signatures against the bill, its CEO Eric Schmidt blasted as “draconian.”
The blackout worked. Fearing the wrath of suddenly-educated voters, SOPA began bleeding sponsors and support, with Republican attack-dog Rep. Darrell Issa even conceding it was “beyond repair.” But Lamar Smith — recipient of $396,000 in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry — isn’t giving up. Calling the blackout “a gimmick,” he plans to move forward with the legislation, now rehashed as an ambiguously pronounceable security measure, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CIPSA). If he stays in office, Smith will find a way to pass his pet legislation for those who fund his campaigns.
This campus can stop him. Here’s how: First, canvass the dorms, sit in on the computer labs and go all out on social media.
Next, “Mr. Smith goes home from Washington.” Texas’ semi-open primary allows voters to participate in the primary of their choosing. So we cross over, backing Libertarian-leaning software engineer Richard Morgan in the May 29 Republican Primary.
The resulting noise is sure to bring national media attention and reinforcements to a race already targeted by Reddit and independent groups such as TestPAC, who recently launched an anti-Smith TV and billboard campaign in the district. If we are going to unseat Smith, it will be in this primary with the turnout of Smith’s base depressed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tight grasp over the GOP presidential nomination.
Aside from the $1.3 million in his campaign piggy bank — sneakily styled “Longhorn PAC” — Smith has one powerful tool at his disposal: your apathy.
But not even Smith could craft a bill broad enough to conscript you into this irrationally submissive behavior.
Last January, a broad coalition pushed back against Lamar Smith and his attempts to hand the keys to the Internet over to big business. That job is not finished. The University of Texas must stand against Lamar Smith or subject America to his radical corporate agenda. On May 29, we cross over and knock him out in his own party’s primary and finally let him take that lobbying gig he’s spent 25 years practicing for.
Saltarelli is a second-year law student.