Tag Archives: politics

A Precedent is Set for Texas Politics

A cartoon figure representing honest, average citizens of the Lone Star State, “Former Governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson is confronted by Old Man Texas” confronts former governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson who is, while playing a political shell game of “Political” shells on the lawn of the State Capitol Lawn.
A cartoon figure representing honest, average citizens of the Lone Star State, “Former Governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson is confronted by Old Man Texas” confronts former governor, Jim “Pa” Ferguson who is, while playing a political shell game of “Political” shells on the lawn of the State Capitol Lawn.

 

 

History is known to repeat itself, and in Texas politics, a pattern of scandals and corruption has been set within its highest office. But when did these unethical, corrupt political practices begin? They can be followed back to one couple that set a precedent for dirty politics in Texas. For two decades, from 1914 to 1932, Jim “Pa” Ferguson and his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson, took control of the Texas Capitol and used the governorship for personal gain, at any cost. As the Fergusons’ role as governor developed, so did the opposition to scandal and “Fergusonism,” becoming major issues in Texas politics for years thereafter.

For Jim “Pa” Ferguson, the mastermind behind countless political schemes and scandals, serving as Texas Governor was his most direct way to gain the political power and recognition he so clearly desired (Stayton). After a successful first term, Ferguson immediately began his second term with an egocentric mindset that led him into troubled waters with Texas officials. After disagreeing with The University of Texas Board of Regents’ choice of president, the former governor abused his powers by vetoing the university’s entire appropriations budget. This bold act of rebellion shocked and angered UT students, professors and government officials. On July 21st, 1917, charges were made that led to the first impeachment of a governor in Texas history (Steen).

For instance, he resigned the day before his impeachment, fully intending to enter the race again and reclaiming his “rightful” spot in the Texas capitol (Steen)  After being defeated for the Democratic nomination, Ferguson was unable to get back on the ballot for governor. Except his pride would not allow for failure to define his career. He made the decision to extend his political power to and through his wife, Mariam “Ma” Ferguson (Huddleston), and had her run on his behalf in the 1924 Gubernatorial race.

Ferguson’s need for control and blatant opposition to his adversaries became even clearer during his wife’s campaign for office. “Ma” Ferguson ran with campaign slogans like “Me for Ma and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa” and “Two governors for the price of one” (Patrick). These blatant messages showed voters that “Pa” would still be in charge if elected. With outspoken messages against the KKK and Prohibition, “Ma” won the election and started “her” career as the first women governor of Texas, and once again the Fergusons were back in office. Even after receiving a second chance at the governorship, however, the couple continued their pattern of public controversy and corruption within the state capitol.

Despite running on a platform of honesty and reconciliation, Ma’s first two years in office were more contentious than voters had hoped. The couple was prosecuted of cronyism, after granting friends and political supports contracts from the state highway commission (Huddleston). By the late 1920s to early 1930s, public sentiment towards the Fergusons took a turn for the worse (Dallas Morning News). At that point, Texas citizens were tired of the couple’s unethical behavior and their lack of respect for the office. The people’s hope diminished as their weariness grew, because of the notorious greed and fraud that marked the Fergusonian period. In fact, the media, which opposed the couple’s political antics, coined a new term—

“Fergusonism”—in the 1920s to refer to and to underscore “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson’s corrupt actions (Brown).

For the last time, Mariam decided to run against incumbent Governor Ross Sterling in the 1932 gubernatorial election. In an article entitled, “Sterling Support”, the Dallas Morning News published the article to officially announce its support for the Sterling candidacy and to revoke support for the Fergusons, candidates who had once enjoyed the newspaper’s endorsement. At the time, The Dallas Morning News stated that it was “primarily against the spoils system which Fergusonism represents,” most likely referring to the 1924 state highway commission contract scandal, as well as the many other political transgressions during the two decades the Fergusons held office. The Dallas Morning News’editorial both explained how its opposition to the couple resulted from the “bitter disappointment of the faith put in the Fergusons in 1924” and also asserted, “in complete unison,” the newspaper’s support for Ross Sterling.

The political cartoon, “He Remembers the Old Shell Game” by John Knott, appeared in the same issue of the Dallas Morning News on August 15, 1932. After decades of the Ferguson’s strong grip on political office, Knott depicts “Old Man Texas,” a representative of the everyday, average Texan (Perez), standing up to “Jim” Ferguson and the political games he played while in power at the Texas State House. The politician is playing a “shell game” which is a game “where a person hides a small object underneath one of three nutshells, thimbles, or cups, then shuffles them about on a flat surface while spectators try to guess the final location of the object (YourDictionary)”. The phrase shell game also refers to “any scheme for tricking and cheating people (YourDictionary)”. Within the cartoon, the shells, Labeled, “Ma”, Jim and Gov. Office, represent the control and responsibility that Ferguson had over the Texas people during the “Fergusonian” period. By depicting Ferguson’s political motivations as a shady gambling game, humor is used to show the realization of the Texas people and how they no longer wanted to be under the control of a politician who covertly shifted his responsibility and power for years right before his constituents. Through this cartoon, the artist conveys the fact that public opinion had shifted from trust in, to skepticism about, Ferguson’s leadership.

Ultimately, Knott’s political cartoon depicts the frustration that grew towards former Governor Jim Ferguson and all his tricks to maintain control over Texas politics. After controlling the gubernatorial office for over two decades, the Fergusons set an unfortunate precedent for unethical leadership. As their time in office continued, power was never enough. Always hungry for more, the couple did whatever it took to keep their name relevant and political control in their hands, even if it harmed the voters who gave them their position in the first place. Unfortunately, “Fergusonism” has become a norm in politics today. It is now common for corruption and indictments to make headlines. The Fergusons paved the way for new, boisterous politicians to pander to the public and continue the tradition of dirty Texas politics for years to come.

 

 

Works Cited

 

“”Fergusonism and the Klan”.” “Fergusonism and the Klan”. Accessed March 26, 2018. http://www2.austin.cc.tx.us/lpatrick/his1693/klan.html.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Joan Jenkins Perez, “Knott, John Francis,” accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fkn05.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, “Ferguson, James Edward,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe05.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 24, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, “Sterling, Ross Shaw,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fst42.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on July 7, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Ben H. Procter, “Great Depression,” accessed March 23, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npg01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Norman D. Brown, “Texas In the 1920s,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npt01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Handbook of Texas Online, Richard T. Fleming, “Moody, Daniel James, Jr.,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmo19.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 26, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

 

Knott, John. “He Remembers the Old Shell Game.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

 

Staff. “Sterling Support.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

 

Stayton, Jennifer. “Meet James ‘Pa’ Ferguson, the First Texas Governor to Face an Indictment.” KUT, kut.org/post/meet-james-pa-ferguson-first-texas-governor-face-indictment.

“Shell Game.” One-Dimensional Dictionary Definition | One-Dimensional Defined, www.yourdictionary.com/shell-game.

Rick Perry Carries on Texas’s Unethical Political Traditions

Sustaining damage to his political image, former Texas Governor Rick Perry suffers a black eye after being indicted for abuse of power.
Sustaining damage to his political image, former Texas Governor Rick Perry suffers a black eye after being indicted for abuse of power.

 

In Texas, the government is big, and the ethical dilemmas are even bigger. For decades, the Lone Star State has been home to scandals—i.e., conspiracy, stock fraud, bribery, and other forms of corruption—caused by unscrupulous politicians, including high-ranking ones, whose actions mislead voters and undermine good governance. Recently, one of Texas’s most notable politicians, former Governor Rick Perry, continued this infamous Texas legacy. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times published the article, “Texas Gov. Rick Perry is indicted, accused of abusing his power,” which examined one of many controversial events that took place during Perry’s time as governor (“Texas Gov. Rick Perry Is Indicted”). Perry, who served in office for fourteen years, made headlines for his questionable ethical decisions and corruption, all while consolidating power and exerting a strong influence that continues to resonate in and through state government (“Rick Perry Biography”). Like his infamous 20th century predecessor, Jim Ferguson, as head of the executive branch of state government Perry exercised abuse of power, engaged in cronyism, and maneuvered to extend his political reach beyond his time in office (Nadler and Shulman).

Rick Perry has never been shy about making bold moves to keep a foothold in public office. After two failed runs for the presidency, Perry currently serves as the fourteenth United States Secretary of Energy appointed by President Donald Trump (“Rick Perry”). In 1989, after switching allegiance from the Democratic Party to membership in the Grand Old Party (GOP), Perry became one of Texas’s most controversial Republican figures (“Rick Perry Biography”). His leadership and political promises were overshadowed by the numerous scandals that took place during his time in elected office—i.e., as a member of the Texas House of Representatives (1985-1991); as Commissioner of Agriculture of Texas (1991-1999); as Lieutenant Governor of Texas (1999-2000); and as Governor of Texas (2000-2015) (Texas State Archives). Whenever ethics were in question, Perry did not shy away from conflict and regularly made unorthodox decisions to maintain his image and power for future political endeavors (Barabak).

During his years in state office, Perry was known as a political powerhouse who was not afraid to bend the rules or to govern in sometimes controversial ways. For example, as Governor in 2013 and while saddled with low approval ratings, he engaged in a bitter power struggle with public universities, especially with then University of Texas President, Bill Powers. The challenges arose after Perry met with advocates from the conservative think tank, Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). The organization pushed for public research universities in the Lone Star State to be run in a more “business-like” way, following “seven breakthrough solutions” offered by Perry’s friend, donor, and TPPF board member, Jeff Sanderfer (Ramsey).  Some of the most controversial suggested reforms included: “rating professors, based on student assessments; separating teaching and research; and including revenue as one measure of whether a program or class should continue” (Ramsey). In response to the proposed changes, there was immediate resistance from university leaders, but under Perry’s control and in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, change was inevitable. The Governor’s alma mater, Texas A&M University, did not last long in the resistance, ultimately resulting in University Chancellor Mike McKinney’s replacement by John Sharp (none other than the Governor’s former classmate and fellow yell leader), as per Rick Perry’s request (“John”). As aggressive changes were taking place on A&M’s campus, tensions continued to escalate on Texas’s flagship research campus, The University of Texas at Austin (UT).

These acts of dominance over Texas’s higher education system were a clear overstep by Perry. As a C student himself, he did not have much credibility to make decisions for postsecondary educators. Nevertheless, the Governor used his political authority and power to make changes that appeased voters. Bill Powers, former UT-Austin President, resisted Perry’s “business-like” higher ed reforms, which turned into a contentious public battle between university officials and the Governor (Jensen). Despite objections from Powers and the UT Austin community, Perry succeeded. He appointed Board of Regents and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who eventually called for Power’s resignation (Jensen).

Even as the public became aware of Perry’s domineering leadership style, he continued to make headlines for certain unprincipled decisions, and these controversies culminated in 2014 when Perry was indicted for abuse of power for his attempt to force Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney (DA) to resign. When she refused, Perry then attempted to unilaterally veto funding for the DA’s Office. More specifically and very controversially, the Governor threatened to defund the statewide public integrity unit (Malewitz, Ramsey).

According to the Perry, he sought Lehmberg’s resignation solely because she was professionally disgraced, after being arrested and pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. The DA’s Office, on the other hand, understood the Republican Governor to be making a threat that was designed to drive out the DA who was a Democrat. Moreover, given the drastic efforts Perry made, there was speculation that his actions were fueled by his own political agenda, because at the time, the nearly defunded public integrity unit was in the process of investigating “his own party’s mismanagement of state government agencies, including alleged corruption in CPRIT [the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas] (Nueman)”.

On August 14, 2015, a grand jury in Austin, Texas, indicted Rick Perry “on two charges related to his effort last year to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign” (Plohetski). That indictment was eventually overturned, however, by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Two judges’ dissension and another judge’s abstention notwithstanding, the Court dismissed the case after finding Perry’s veto lawful on behalf of his 1st Amendment rights (Malewitz, Ramsey). Immediately thereafter, Perry spoke of how the indictment was “nothing less than a baseless political attack, and an assault on constitutional powers,” that negatively affected his run for U.S. President at the time (Tatum).

With over fourteen years of governorship, Perry had extensive connections and deep political ties that he kept loyal to, even if they did not benefit the greater public good. His participation in the “good ol’ boy network” garnered scrutiny in the public eye. Most notably and as an example, in 2007 Governor Perry issued an executive order requiring all girls entering the sixth-grade to receive the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.  Only a few hours later, Perry rolled back his decision and claimed, “he was misinformed” and “made a mistake” (Root).  In Perry’s eyes, his mistake may have not been that he made an unethical decision on behalf thousands of Texan’s public health, but that he did not keep his ties to the drug distributor, Merck, more undercover from the public, for his own personal gain. To make things even murkier, Mike Toomey, Perry’s former Chief of Staff, was one of three lobbyists for the company at the time, revealing an obvious act of cronyism that was an embarrassment to the Perry Administration. Still more accusations were made against Perry’s ethics and personal interests after watchdog groups exposed the fact that Merck donated money to Perry’s re-election campaign (Root).

During his extended governorship, Perry’s involvement in cronyism scandals and political favors became a normal practice in the Texas Capitol. In 2013, CPRIT was back in the news, as a criminal investigation was opened after finding out that an eleven billion-dollar grant was given to a Dallas based bio-therapeutic company without proper “scientific or business review” (Drew). Perry later signed a bill to restructure the agency in order to regain confidence and trust during his national run for the presidency.

As more stories were published concerning corruption in the capitol, the public began to grow weary of his administration’s dominance in Texas politics. In 2014, 62% of Texans felt that Perry’s resignation was “long overdue,” and 51% of Americans disapproved of his presidential run as a GOP candidate (Jensen). Even as public opinion dwindled, Perry was not finished with his position just yet. Before he left, he made sure to build a strong foundation for continuing conservative dominance in Texas politics for years to come (“Gov. Rick Perry, Leaving Office”).

During the fourteen years that Perry controlled the Texas executive branch, he established an influence and legacy that is continuing well after his time in office. With over 8,000 appointments made, Perry established deep roots for his own ideology and for conservatism in Texas’s state capitol (McDonald). This record number of appointments will shape policy and establish his power in several different areas throughout the state—i.e., over the University of Texas System Board of Regents, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and in many other positions throughout the state. (McDonald). Even now, as the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Energy, Perry’s influence continues to make an impact on Texas and American politics far beyond his time as governor. By championing energy independence, Perry continues to keep his political agenda a priority, which in turn still points to Texas. Since oil is one of the state’s largest industries, Perry’s political influence still makes an impact back home (Braun).

Rick Perry, the strong Texas political figure that he was, garnered equal parts attention and criticism for his bold behavior and shady politics. Just as Perry did not shy from controversial views, neither did his critics, most notably the late political columnist, Molly Ivins. Born and raised in the Lone Star State, she famously penned the nickname, “Governor Goodhair” to describe to him and wittily highlighted the difference between “Texas Tough and Texas Stupid” (Ivins). Her criticism was welcomed by many Texans and helped create comic relief during Perry’s extended governorship.

Illustrated by William “Bubba” Flint and published by the Dallas Morning News, the political cartoon atop this blog post depicts Rick Perry looking roughed up. He has a black eye, the result of the “Perry Indictment.” On his head is a large-brimmed cowboy hat labeled “Texas Politics.” Deceptively simple, Flint’s cartoon visually represents the rough and tumble of state politics: By “donning the hat”—i.e., engaging in Texas Politics—Rick Perry has taken a beating, and his public image has been battered and bruised by all the scandals and indictments.

Throughout Texas’s political history, Rick Perry is only one of many governors who have endured scandals and implemented questionable policies in their time of governorship. In many ways, Jim “Pa” Ferguson, Texas governor from 1914-1917, was involved in scandals that closely mirrored Perry’s. For instance, Ferguson was the first governor to be indicted and impeached while in office, and like Perry, Ferguson was indicted for overstepping his power and starting political turmoil with University leadership (Steen).

Like today, the Lone Star State’s gubernatorial scandals were captured in political cartoons of the era. For example, in a political cartoon published by the Dallas Morning News in 1932, Ferguson was depicted playing a “shell game”, a gambling game that is meant to confuse and disarm the players (Dallas Morning News). The illustration refers to the numerous scandals and shifting of political responsibility by Ferguson and the resultant mistrust that the Texas public had for him. Due to several acts of cronyism and mishandlings of power on his part, the media coined a new phrase, “Fergusonism,” to describe the corruption and scandalous behavior that characterized his extended time in office (Brown). The Dallas Morning News published an accompanying editorial, titled, “Sterling Support”, to publicly revoke their past support of Ferguson, in direct response to the mishandling and scandals that Fergusonism brought (“Sterling Support”).

In their respective times at the Texas State Capitol, former governors Rick Perry and Jim Ferguson boldly took office and used their power for personal advantage and for the benefit of those in their inner circles. Many of their policies recklessly abandoned ethics and followed in the long line of corrupt politicians who have set a rather low bar as the standard in Texas politics. As it often does, history is repeating itself, and in the 21st century, Texas appears on track to continue its legacy of deep partisanship and dirty politics for years to come.

 

Link to LA Times article ‘Texas Gov. Rick Perry is indicted, accused of abusing his power’

http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-na-pn-rick-perry-indictment-texas-20140815-story.html

 

Works Cited

Anderson, Nick, and Houston Chronicle. “Rick Perry’s Return to Spotlight Brings a Return to Editorial Cartoons for ‘Oops’ Moment.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 19 Jan. 2017, www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/anderson/article/Rick-Perry-s-return-to-spotlight-brings-a-return-10869459.php#photo-8616106.

Barabak, Mark Z. “Gov. Rick Perry, Leaving Office, Ends an Influential Era in Texas.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2015, www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-texas-politics-perry-abbott-20150120-story.html.

Barabak, Mark Z. “Texas Gov. Rick Perry Is Indicted, Accused of Abusing His Power.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 15 Aug. 2014, www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-na-pn-rick-perry-indictment-texas-20140815-story.html.

Braun, Stephen. “Perry Brings Oil Industry Ties to Energy Department.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 14 Dec. 2016, www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/perry-oil-industry-energy-department.

Burnett, John. “Are Texans Tired Of Gov. Rick Perry?” NPR, NPR, 13 Oct. 2010, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130521544.

Burrough, Bryan, and André Carrilho. “Rick Perry Has Three Strikes Against Him.” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 30 Jan. 2015, www.vanityfair.com/news/politics/2012/01/rick-perry-201201.

Flint, William Bubba. “Rick Perry Political Cartoons.” The Dallas Morning News, www.dallasnews.com/local-politics/local-politics/2011/10/06/rick-perry-political-cartoons.

Goodwyn, Wade. “Showdown At The UT Corral.” NPR, NPR, 14 July 2014, www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2014/07/14/330752898/showdown-at-the-ut-corral.

Handbook of Texas Online, Norman D. Brown, “Texas In the 1920s,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/npt01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ralph W. Steen, “Ferguson, James Edward,” accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffe05.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on February 24, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Ivins, Molly. “Shrub Flubs His Dub.” The Nation, 31 May 2001, www.thenation.com/article/shrub-flubs-his-dub/.

Jensen, Tom. “Header Poll Results.” Public Policy Poling, 29 Jan. 2013, www.publicpolicypolling.com/polls/most-texas-voters-done-with-rick-perry/.

“John Sharp Wins Approval as Texas A&M Chancellor.” Longview News-Journal, 16 Aug. 2011, www.news-journal.com/news/local/john-sharp-wins-approval-as-texas-a-m-chancellor/article_332680e0-6787-5e9d-b174-d953161cad66.html.

Jr., Leonard Pitts, and Tribune Content Agency. “The Dumb Indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.” Statesman Journal, Statesman Journal, 24 Aug. 2014, www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/2014/08/24/dumb-indictment-texas-gov-rick-perry/14522427/.

Knott, John. “He Remembers the Old Shell Game.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

Malewitz, Jim, and Kiah Collier. “Rick Perry’s Energy Legacy Is More Complicated than You Think.” The Texas Tribune, Texas Tribune, 13 Dec. 2016, www.texastribune.org/2016/12/13/recap-rick-perrys-texas-energy-legacy/.

Malewitz, Jim, and Ross Ramsey. “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Dismisses Rick Perry Indictment.” The Texas Tribune, Texas Tribune, 24 Feb. 2016, www.texastribune.org/2016/02/24/texas-high-court-dismisses-rick-perry-indictments/.

McDonald, Christian. “The Rick Perry Legacy: Government Overseers Who Think like He Does.” Mystatesman, American-Statesman Staff, 22 Sept. 2014, www.mystatesman.com/news/the-rick-perry-legacy-government-overseers-who-think-like-does/mbVM77p7aMTVC2OzWqnpNP/.

Plohetski, Tony. “Rick Perry Indicted for Lehmberg Veto Threat.” Statesman, Associated Press, 16 Aug. 2014, www.statesman.com/news/rick-perry-indicted-for-lehmberg-veto-threat/tQ4rPHj7Zx2HOxCECBfMsO/.

Ramsey, Ross. “Tensions Between Rick Perry and U.T.’s Bill Powers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/us/tensions-between-rick-perry-and-uts-bill-powers.html?auth=login-smartlock.

Staff, KUT. “Governor Rick Perry Indicted on Two Felony Charges.” KUT 90.5, 15 Aug. 2014, kut.org/post/governor-rick-perry-indicted-two-felony-charges.

Staff. “Sterling Support.” The Dallas Morning News, 18 Aug. 1932.

Tatum, Sophie. “Charges against Rick Perry Dismissed in Abuse of Power Case – CNNPolitics.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Feb. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/02/24/politics/rick-perry-indictment-dropped/index.html

 

Booty is in the Eye of the Beholder!

An elephant, representing the Texas Legislature, points to a redistricting map of the state which shows a large portrait of an elephant, the symbol of the Republican party, superimposed on the map.
An elephant, representing the Texas Legislature, points to a redistricting map of the state which shows a large portrait of an elephant, the symbol of the Republican party, superimposed on the map.

Borders, especially Texas borders, have always been divisively political. Texan history has been full of border disputes: the 19th century issue of slavery in the Missouri compromise (Connor); attempts in the 20th century to redistribute land to political parties (“Division of Texas”); and 21st century gerrymandering within the state (Tarr and Benenson). The long, repetitive cycle of redrawing arbitrary lines to meet political goals continued through the early 2000s with the Texas Legislature’s decision to redistrict its boundaries for the US House of Representatives. In 2003, Texas Lawmakers opted for a voluntary redistricting to increase Republican seats in congress (Toobin).

While redistricting is required by the US Constitution every ten years at the advent of a new census, the 2003 redrawing was not a legal necessity. The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature called for a vote on a new redistricting plan soon after taking a majority of seats in both houses. This plan was rife with controversy. ­­The process of redistricting was drawn out well past the intended Republican time-frame due to several court hearings (e.g.: League of United Latin American Citizens v Perry) regarding the legality of gerrymandering along racial and political lines (Eggin). Those legal cases challenged the legality of the new map. One district was found to be in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and was re-drawn (Eggin). By 2007, however, the new district map was finalized and in effect.

Leaders of the GOP, like Texan Tom DeLay, repeatedly stated that the purpose of this elective redistricting was to increase Republican control of the US House of Representatives (Toobin).

DeLay was the House Majority Leader and Republican whip in the United States Congress. After the state elections in 2002, DeLay took time off from Washington in 2003 to lobby the Texas government in Austin for a new district map. DeLay had an instrumental role redistricting the Lone Star State. He ran a Political Action Committee (PAC) called “Texans for a Republican Majority” that focused its large monetary assets on influencing the Texas house to re-draw the state’s map boundaries (Eggin).

DeLay’s national political career was tainted with assorted ethics and procedural violations, especially his ruthless work with the Texas legislature. In 2004, DeLay was reprimanded by the House Committee on Official Standards for exceeding acceptable behavior in pursuit of his political goals. In 2006, he was forced to resign from the US Congress when he was indicted for alleged conspiracy and election violations vis-à-vis his PAC (“DeLay, Tom”). The tactics used by DeLay that so effectively built a stronger Republican majority would ultimately be his downfall. Because of the overtly political goals, partisan redistricting has left many in the electorate frustrated and cynical towards the politicized electoral boundaries.

These sentiments are aptly captured in Christopher Weyant’s cartoon, “Booty is in the Eye of the Beholder.” His cartoon depicts the geographic area of the state of Texas with several small shapes carved into it, representing congressional districts. By far the most immense shape is the large figure of an elephant’s head superimposed in the middle, covering a majority of the map. The elephant symbol is used a second time for the anthropomorphized presenter of the map, who is labeled as the Republican Texas Legislature. Dressed in traditional Texan garb—a cowboy hat, yoked shirt, large belt buckle, rancher boots, and bolo tie—the elephant announces: “Booty is in the eye of the beholder!” This is a play on the idiom, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This pun replaces “beauty’s” sentiment of love and appreciation with the nearly-homophonous “booty,” a noun that normally describes seizures in war (Oxford English Dictionary). “Booty” has the connotation of being something a pirate steals from its rightful owners. In this case, Weyant’s word choice shows the sordid behavior of the GOP in the pursuit of more seats in the US house—perhaps “pirating” the right of representational democracy from the electorate in the state.

This cynical view of the 21st century Texas redistricting was not uncommon in the years following the new map’s creation by the Texas legislature. During the Supreme Court cases on racial gerrymandering, many commentators found that the nature of the redistricting was an unnecessary political aggression. That the Republican party was sacrificing the will of the people for a shameless grasp at power (Toobin).

Jeffery Toobin, in his New Yorker editorial “Drawing the Line,” (pp.) described the Republican Party’s efforts at nation-wide redistricting as heavy-handed and corrupt. Especially in light of Tom DeLay’s inditement for political corruption, critics like Weyant found pirate-like behavior in his party’s conduct. Toobin argued that these aggressive methods would not be conducive to political discussion and would ultimately cost the Republican Party politically. John Cornyn, the senior Republican Senator of Texas, however, saw it differently. He said that many in his party felt their aggressive new map was justified—political revenge for the Democratic-drawn maps that had been used for the past decades (Toobin).

Such spiteful GOP responses to perceived injustices by the opposing party recall memories of 1930s-era efforts by Texas Democrat John Nance Garner to overcome the North-Eastern hegemony in the US Senate by redrawing the borders of the Lone Star State. Just as 21st century Republicans have redistricted Texas to guarantee greater representation in the United States House of Representatives, Garner led a campaign to divide Texas into five smaller states in order to increase the number of Democratic members in the US Senate. Garner’s political machinations were the subject of much critique in the Dallas Morning News in 1932. The editorial board, in their piece “Texas One and Indivisible,” found that Garner’s politically charged plan would adversely affect the citizens of Texas. Read together with John Knott’s cartoon, “Can He Sell the Old Man,” that depicted Garner as a salesman selling something the State didn’t want, there’s an immediate connection with today’s political commentators’ and illustrators’ concerns surrounding redistricting.

The controversies around remaking political borders are constant in Texas history. In 1932, when John Garner was criticized in The Dallas Morning News for his attempt to split up Texas for the benefit of his political party, it was only one many attempts to draw lines to wield power. Today’s use of governmental processes to gerrymander borders remains both controversial and pervasive. Even with the potential costs of the political game, bureaucratic means of partitioning are effective and will likely continue as long as they are technically allowed.

Works Cited

“Booty: Definition.” Oxford University Press. 2018. Web. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/booty

Connor, Seymour. “Missouri Compromise.” Texas State Historical Association. 15 June 2010. Web. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/nbm01

“DeLay, Tom.” Congress A to Z, 5th ed., CQ Press, 2008, pp. 152-153. CQ Press American Government A to Z Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2142200100/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=b56f15d8. Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Eggin, Dan. “Judge Staff saw Texas Redistricting as Illegal.” The Washington Post. 2 Dec 2005. Print.

Knott, John. “Can He Sell the Old Man?” The Dallas Morning News. 3 Jan 1932, sec. 3: 10. Print.

“League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry.” Oyez, 11 May. 2018, www.oyez.org/cases/2005/05-204.

Tarr, Dave, and Bob Benenson. “Mid-Decade Redistricti­­ng.” Elections A to Z, 4th ed., CQ Press, 2012, pp. 330-333. CQ Press American Government A to Z Series. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX4159000121/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=58e78366. Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Texas, One and Indivisible.” Editorial. The Dallas Morning News. 3 Jan 1932, sec. 3: 10. Print.

Toobin, Jeffery. “Drawing the Line.” Editorial. The New Yorker. 6 Mar 2006. Print.

Weyant, Christopher. “Booty is in the Eye of the Beholder.” The Hill. 2007.

Their Fiscal Cliff or Ours?

President Obama attempting to prevent himself from being dragged down a cliff by a blind folded elephant by attempting to hook on to a tree with a cane.
Obama desperately attempts to save both himself and a blind folded Congress from going over the fiscal cliff.

Cartoonist Luo Jie, of the news site China Daily, created a significant portfolio of critical political cartoons addressing global issues. In his humorous cartoon, “Fiscal Cliff,” Luo Jie symbolically depicts the struggle between U.S. President Barack Obama and the ignorant Republican Congressional opposition in their efforts to pass the federal budget for the fiscal year 2013.

Jie’s cartoon, published December 8th, 2012, utilizes several symbols to convey meaning to the viewer: the man in the suit representing Obama; the blindfolded Elephant representing oblivious Republicans; the chain representing the bipartisan requirement to pass the fiscal budget; the other items representing actions regarding fiscal policy. The aggregate of the symbols constitutes a message censuring partisan politics in the United States, mocking both Obama and the Republican Party.

The 112th Congress, in office from 2012 to 2014, consisted of a Democrat-dominated Senate and a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. The ideological split between the Senate and House resulted in severe disagreements, bolstered partisan politics, and stalled policy development (Zeleny). The term “fiscal cliff” earns the name from the impending shift of fiscal policy. The cliff referred to large budget sequestration (reduction of the federal deficit through spending cuts) and the expiration of President George W. Bush era tax cuts. Republicans backed sequestration and opposed the increase on taxes while Democrats backed increasing taxes for only those considered upper-class (Sahadi). Despite the negative connotation of the word “cliff,” the fiscal cliff in its entirety holds the ability to cut the United States budget deficit seventy-five percent by 2022 which would result in significant positive economic impact in the long-run (CBO). Disagreeing with the increase of taxation on the middle class, Democrats pushed for higher taxation on the top two percent of income earners in lieu of the expected increase on middle class taxation hoping to still provide the positive economic benefits of reducing the budget deficit. Across the isle, Republicans refused to tax the wealthy – the vast majority of their campaign donors – resulting in a stand-still in the budget creation process (Jackson).

An article, released the same day as the cartoon, titled “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ idea ‘a joke’,” analyzes current Speaker of the House Republican John Boehner’s remarks regarding the fiscal cliff talks. Boehner sees the Democratic fiscal cliff proposition as an insult to the Republican Party and excoriates Democrats for not focusing more on cutting the budget, and relying almost exclusively on a tax increase (Jackson).

The humor in Jie’s cartoon consists of several layers generated by the visual representation of Obama and the elephant. Obama’s struggle to latch onto the tree of “THE RICH” with the cane of “RAISING TAXES” exists as the focal point of the cartoon due to Obama’s fight to keep both himself and the elephant alive. The mien of Obama, is that of panic and worry, signifying that Democrats truly believe the best and possibly only solution to avert going over the fiscal cliff is to keep the tax cuts for the middle class and increase taxation for the upper class. Meanwhile, the blind-folded elephant, the Republican dominated Congress, attempts to casually keep walking not realizing there is a cliff in front of it. The two branches of government chained together depicts the requirement of different parties to work together in order to accomplish anything. Unfortunately for President Obama, the elephant does not realize the impending danger of the situation, representative of Congress’ uncompromising rejection of raising taxes on the wealthy. The panicked expression of Obama lets the viewer understand the importance of the situation, but when contrasted with the blinded elephant’s absent minded actions allows the reader to laugh at Obama’s pain and the naivety of the Republican party.

The humor parallels that of John Knott’s 1931 cartoon titled “No Time For Fiddling!” in which Knott portrays Congress as an oaf who quite literally is fiddling around – playing a fiddle labeled “partisan politics” – while the world burns. The cartoon denounces the U.S. Congress for its inability to come together to act on the impending threat, later resulting in the Great Depression. Partisanship remains the biggest obstacle for functional and effective government, and cartoonists like John Knott and Luo Jie continue to criticize the institutions’ failures for years to come.

Partisan Politics serve as the biggest hinderance to change, and oftentimes, even in the face of an impeding crisis, opposing parties refuse to work together. Eventually Congress and the White House will probably become uniform and under one party, but until then President Obama will have to compromise with his Republican controlled House of Representatives.

Works Cited:

Congressional Budget Office. Economic Effects of Policies    Contributing to Fiscal Tightening in 2013. CBO, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Jackson, Jill. “GOP: White House ‘fiscal cliff’ Idea ‘a joke'” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Jie, Luo. Fiscal Cliff. Digital image. ChinaDaily. CDIC, 8 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15    Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Sahadi, Jeanne. “Fiscal Cliff: Next President’s First Big Problem to Solve.”CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Zeleny, Jeff. “G.O.P. Captures House, but Not Senate.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

The Gold Standard of Politicking

Seated man (labeled Congress) playing a fiddle (labeled partisan politics) and an angry Uncle Sam standing and pointing out that the world is on fire and is experiencing distress to the seated man.
Knott’s depiction of an incompetent Congress fiddling around, and a furious Uncle Sam gesturing to the rest of the world burning.

Renowned for his critical illustrations of early twentieth century United States politics, John Francis Knott fueled debate on American policy through his work with the Dallas Morning News. The vast majority of Knott’s career as a political cartoonist consisted of criticizing the government on a plethora of issues ranging from welfare to war (Perez). In his cartoon “No Time for Fiddling!” Knott humorously denounces Congress, through symbolic images, for squandering valuable time over frivolous partisan politics instead of mobilizing to save the American economy during the onset of the Great Depression.

Knott’s piece, published December 15th, 1931, contains various symbols, each one conveying a unique concern of the times: the bearded man representing righteousness and action, the flames representing an imminent threat, the fiddle representing partisan politicking, and the sitting man representing an incompetent Congress. Through these symbols, Knott creates a symphony of critiques, which scolds Congress for their petty antics.

Uncle Sam, the man standing and aggressively gesturing to the flame-ridden world, represents American pride and strength. Used initially for war recruitment ads, Uncle Sam became associated with America’s call to action and impending threats (“The Most Famous Poster”). Knott utilizes this well-known American symbol to rhetorically attack the United States Congress, calling it to action to address and acknowledge the “WORLD’S DISTRESS.”

The accompanying editorial article titled “The Gold Standard” addresses the economic state of the world, and countries’ suffering due to reluctance to depart from the gold standard. It emphasizes that the United States is currently in a severe financial depression, later called the Great Depression, and continues on to request action from Congress to solve the economic suffering experienced by the world. Additionally, the departure off the gold standard by select countries (e.g. Japan, countries of the United Kingdom, Argentina) destabilized trade in regions since these countries were now trading in deflated currencies, which resulted in a significant negative impact on foreign economies (“The Gold Standard”). Beginning with Black Tuesday, the U.S. stock market crash of 1929, America spiraled into economic turmoil along with the rest of the world. The general consensus of historians blames the downward spiral primarily on Congress, which at the time was not willing or able to engage in some sort of expansionary fiscal policy or depart from the gold standard (Smiley).

Knott’s visualization displays Congress as a rotund geezer slouching on a chair with a fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” in his hand. The large man has a look of both anger and frustration on his face while confronted by Uncle Sam. Clearly, Knott’s physical representation of Congress serves to associate the politicians with languidness, incompetence, and ignorance. The cartoon serves as critical commentary on the lack of bipartisan action in Congress during 1931, when the members of Congress were split almost evenly between the two major political parties, Republican and Democratic (“72nd Congress”). Republican policy, primarily characterized by its isolationist view on foreign policy and disdain towards governmental intervention, essentially acted as a catalyst for the Great Depression (“Republican Party Platform of 1928″). The debate regarding individualism versus intervention played a key role in the Great Depression, since it was individualism, supported by the Republicans, that led to the Great Depression, and intervention, supported by the Democrats, which brought the economy out of the Great Depression.

The fiddle, labeled “partisan politics,” generates most of the humor in the cartoon. The term “fiddling around” alludes to the colloquial phrase, “fiddling while Rome burns.” The phrase is a reference to a rumor that the Roman Emperor Nero played a lyre while Rome burned (“fiddle while Rome burns”). Knott draws a parallel, underscoring the point that in 1931 Congress was fiddling with partisan politics while the world was on the brink of destruction. Additionally, Knott lampoons Congress by drawing it as a plump old fogy, who appears to be clueless. The negative connotations created by the countenance and physique of Congress effectively delivers the point that Congress was absent-minded and only capable of fiddling around instead of acting.

“No Time for Fiddling!” serves as a vessel both to criticize a self-interested and ineffectual Congress and to draw attention to the chaos and despair of the world around them. A progressive agenda was eventually passed under a new Democratic majority and FDR’s New Deal shortly after, but only because of critics like John Francis Knott was the American public informed enough to move towards reform (Smiley). Although Knott’s cartoon wasn’t enough to prevent the Great Depression, it will forever remain a part of important critical discourse through the Dallas Morning News.

Works Cited:

“72nd Congress (1931 – 1933).” History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“fiddle while Rome burns.” Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. 2006. Cambridge University Press. 4 Nov 2015.

Knott, John F. “No Time for Fiddling!” Cartoon. The Dallas Morning News[Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Perez, Joan Jenkins. “Knott, John Francis.” Handbook of Texas Online. Demand  Media, 15 June 2010. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“Republican Party Platform of 1928.” The American Presidency Project. Peters, Woolley, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

Smiley, Gene. “Great Depression.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. Web. 25 Oct 2015.

“The Gold Standard.”  Editorial. The Dallas Morning News [Dallas] 15 Dec. 1931: n.pag. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

“The Most Famous Poster.” American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Demand Media, n.d. Web. 25 Oct 2015.