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SHAPLEIGH: WAGING WAR ON HISPANICS IN TEXAS
March 1, 2011

By now, the Rick Perry, Radical Republican agenda is clear. During the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature, TEA party Republicans mean to wage war on Hispanics.

In Perry’s party, which just took 22 seats away from Democrats to create a supermajority in the Texas House, the agenda is now crystal clear—cut taxes for the billionaires that funded Perry’s last election, cut budgets for key programs that invest in Hispanic education and health, cut regulations to corporations like the predatory lenders whose PACs pay for House wins and do anything possible to keep Hispanics away from the ballot box.

Written by Eliot Shapleigh, Rio Grande Guardian

AUSTIN, March 1 - By now, the Rick Perry, Radical Republican agenda is clear. During the 82nd Session of the Texas Legislature, TEA party Republicans mean to wage war on Hispanics.

In Perry’s party, which just took 22 seats away from Democrats to create a supermajority in the Texas House, the agenda is now crystal clear—cut taxes for the billionaires that funded Perry’s last election, cut budgets for key programs that invest in Hispanic education and health, cut regulations to corporations like the predatory lenders whose PACs pay for House wins and do anything possible to keep Hispanics away from the ballot box. 

Let’s start with Perry’s ‘emergencies.’ As Governor, he alone can say what ‘emergency’ legislation must pass. With an historic $27.6 billion deficit on the horizon, program cuts from which will hurt Hispanics for a generation to come, Perry has made Arizona-style immigration stops and Voter ID laws two of his emergency items in the 82nd in order to guarantee quick passage in the first 60 days of Session.

Last week, chairmen of the Senate and House committees that deal with law enforcement both filed companion bills to guarantee that Arizona-style stops become the law in Texas. In the Senate, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst named new Chair Tommy Williams to spearhead anti-immigrant bills. Williams carried the resolution last session that changed the Senate's rules to ensure passage of voter ID legislation. Prior to session, Dewhurst sacked previous chair Senator John Carona who courageously stopped anti-immigrant bills for three straight sessions. Williams’ SB 11 paves the way for law enforcement to profile Hispanics based on the color of one’s skin in so called “voluntary immigration stops.’ Representative Burt Solomons has filed an identical bill in the House.

In just the House alone there are now 60 anti-Hispanic immigrant bills filed, among them these measures:

    * HB 22 by Debbie Riddle would require public schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of each student when the child enrolls in school.
    * HB 292 by Berman to eliminate birthright citizenship guaranteed by the US Constitution;
    * HB 294 by Berman to make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to file suit in state court; and
    * HB 303 by Berman to levy an 8% tax on all money wired to Latin America.

In poll after poll, seceding from the reality of border communities today, the TEA Party base of the Texas Republican party lists ‘border security’ or immigration as the top threat to Texas despite the fact that El Paso and border cities are among the safest in the U.S. and undocumented crossings are at a fifteen year low. On January 26, the Republican Texas Senate passed a voter ID bill designed by Karl Rove to cut 3-5 percent of minority voting strength. That bill is now headed to the supermajority Republican Texas House, then to Perry’s desk.

Meanwhile, in the House budget committee, the chair filed this session’s budget bill that cuts $27.6 billion from public schools, CHIP, Medicaid, and Texas Grants, among other programs that are keys to Hispanic prosperity in Texas. Last session, Perry filled that hole with $ 14.2 billion of President Obama's stimulus funding, more than any other state - the very same funding that Perry has gone out of his way to lambaste publicly. This session, Rick Perry made clear that he will not let one penny of the $9 billion rainy day fund be used to pay for those programs. Perry wants the entire deficit to be fixed with cuts to essential services.

Back in 2006, Perry, Tom Craddick and David Dewhurst created $10 billion of the current deficits by cutting property taxes that fund schools, then shifting to a business tax that business supporters of Perry’s do not pay. Hence, in each and every session, the budget starts $10 billion out of balance and Perry can rally radical Republicans to cut more education programs, more scholarships, more health care to balance the books in Austin on the backs of Hispanics in Texas. One key lawmaker in Austincalled that $10 billion structural deficit Rick Perry’s ‘hot check.’

So who pays the taxes that billionaires don’t pay? By shifting tax burdens to local taxpayers, Hispanics back home pay for Perry’s hot check. In El Paso, school districts now plan to ask voters to pay up to 13 cents of new school taxes to pay what businesses don’t pay out of the poorest per capita tax base for any large city in the U.S. Further, by cutting the inheritance tax on billionaires, dollar for dollar Perry has shifted $334 million of taxes that used to come to the Texas treasury to students and families at universities like UTEP or UT Pan Am who now must pay that burden in tuition that is up over 72 percent from 2003.

Moreover, the Republicans' proposed cuts of $385 million to financial aid, including the Texas Grants program, will drop nearly 100,000 students who currently get help. Lower family income levels make Hispanics the fastest growing segment of college bound students in need of financial aid, and Hispanics currently receive half of all Texas Grants awarded. In today's Texas 49 percent of all school children are Hispanic and an astounding 59 percent are economically disadvantaged - just as Perry proposes to slash $10 billion in funding to public schools.

Over at Health and Human Services, the House budget proposed a 10 percent cut in rates paid to doctors that accept Medicaid patients - patients who are overwhelmingly Hispanic. Already, Texas is the least insured state in all the U.S. with Hispanics the largest segment of the uninsured population.

 When Perry released his budget priorities, where did he ask for more funding? Corporate welfare for the very corporations that pay for his election. As of March of last year, Perry had doled out $345 million from his Texas Enterprise Slush Fund. In return, 20 of those companies - almost half - donated $2.2 million to Perry. Countrywide alone got $20 million from Perry’s Enterprise fund and plenty of help from Perry in keeping any mortgage regulation away from Countrywide sub-prime lending across Texas - which, again, disproportionately affected Hispanic Texans with foreclosures in places like McAllen.

Up in North Texas, radical Republican tea party leaders just filed suit in Federal court to block the 2010 Census. They're arguing that we should not count the rising Hispanic population in order to make sure that the four new congressmen coming to Texas are not in Hispanic districts. With results released last week, the Hispanic population represents 65 percent of all new growth in our state and 37.6 percent of overall Texas population.

Over at the State Board of Education, radical Republicans did their best to eliminate any references to Cesar Chavez in Texas school textbooks, essentially trying to erase the contributions of Hispanics toTexas history. In fact, Peter Barton, one of the right-wing Board's so-called experts on history, stated that, “Cesar Chavez is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.” Really? That might come as a surprise to the parents of children attending schools named after Chavez - eight of which are in Texas.

At Perry’s finance commission, the VP for Government Affairs, (lobbyist) for one of America’s biggest predatory lenders is now Perry’s chair. Interest rates on payday loans that disproportionately impact Hispanic working families and immigrants whose identity keeps them from mainstream banking are now 1,100 percent per year. Bills to cut that rate and rein in usury were killed every session in Senate committees run by Perry’s old roommate from his days in the House.

Make no mistake—the radical Republican war on Hispanics in Texas is by design. Word for word here are resolutions from the 2010 Texas Republican Party platform:

•        “amend the US Constitution to suspend automatic US citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants”;

•        “empower state and local law enforcement agencies with authority and resources to detain illegal immigrants”;

•        “elimination of laws requiring hospitals to give non emergency care to illegals”; and

•        “elimination of state funding for illegal’s education, housing or business loans.”

All of us in Texas now know what Rick Perry and radical Republicans plan to do—the real question is what will Texans do who believe in our future? Based on ex state demographer, Steve Murdock’s revised 2010 numbers Texas became majority minority in 2004 and will be majority Hispanic in 2026. Based on his research, failing to fund education in Texas to keep our students competitive in the 21st century will cost every Texas family over $6,000 in lost income by 2040. At a meeting in Austinlast week, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus asked the real question for Texas—if 75 percent of students in Texas public school today are Hispanics, when will the leadership of Texas look like the face of Texas?

To make that happen, it comes down to voting. In California, responding to his own radical right, Governor Pete Wilson pushed many of the same anti immigrant funding concepts via Proposition 187 that we see in Texas today. Realization in the Hispanic community regarding the impact of Prop 187 (that was later ruled unconstitutional) is credited with increased Hispanic turnout and the elimination of every single statewide Republican in California. 

After the 82nd Session TEA party is over the question for Texas is not whether the Pete Wilson moment happen but how soon.

Eliot Shapleigh is a former state senator from El Paso. The above column is based upon a speech he gave last week to the League of United Latin American Citizens at their 2011 legislative conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Austin. The title of the speech was "Waging War on Hispanics in Texas – What Happens After the Tea Party is Over."


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