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From the “Actions speak louder than words” department

RG Ratcliffe of Texas Monthly speaks to former Railroad Commissioner and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams about his disapproval of bathroom bills.

RGR: You told me political parties over time curdle and spoil, but is there something about the debate over the bathroom bill that is particularly disappointing to you?

MW: Yes, there is. Where the legislature left it was that the burden and the onus of dealing with this whole transgender issue, they were going to leave to the most vulnerable and youngest members of Texas—children. Not adults. Somebody had warned that issue, to put that burden on adults, might have adverse economic impact on Texas, I agree with that, mind you. So we’re not going to do anything about adults. What we’re going to do is put the burden on the Texans who are coming into their own and first dealing with this stuff, about who they are and how they deal with other folks, the youngest Texans, the most vulnerable Texans. Now to me, you know, if you’re going to do this stuff, you don’t put the burden on children.

I don’t know jack about being transgender, obviously. I do have transgender friends. But I can imagine, if I was having to deal with issues of just ‘Hey, what’s it like to be a boy at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,’ and what all that means, I can imagine that they’ve got a whole bunch of other stuff that they’ve got to go through in their head and now we’ve got to make them go through some other hoops? Not the adults in Texas, the children.

Look. Ain’t no transgender boy going into the bathroom to beat up little girls. That ain’t happening. If anything, [transgender] people are the one’s that are going to get jacked up. There’s just no problem here, on our campuses, our school officials have demonstrated that they are more than capable, on a case-by-case basis, to deal with these issues, because they’ve done that. So there is no problem that requires some kind of statewide solution. Those kids aren’t posing a problem to their fellow students. Local school officials in their own way. What’s to me unsavory is that we’re putting the burden of this issue on the backs of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society, which is children. Not the adults because, you know, I think we realize there could be a real financial consequence to this shit.

RGR: I’m just a tad younger than you, and I have a distinct memory of segregated bathrooms and segregated water fountains. I spent the early part of my career working in Georgia and Alabama and got assigned to cover a lot of white supremacist rallies, and the one phrase I kept hearing over and over again was you know, ‘We have to protect our daughters.’ And I hear a lot of similar connections in this debate. Is that justifiable?

MW: I have a mother who is still in my life, thankfully. I have a wife. I have two sisters. And I have a bunch of nieces. So yes, we want to protect the women in our lives. But the reality is, help me understand what the threat is to them. Show me evidence that some transgender woman is posing a threat to them. I’m an old prosecutor, I was a prosecutor for ten years, we’ve got laws against sexually assaulting someone. So someone will say to me, ‘But Michael, we want to prevent that person from going into the bathroom in the first place.’ If somebody is bound and determined to go to a bathroom and do harm, that person will do it. This law ain’t gonna stop it.

What we haven’t learned over the course of society is that we as society, we’re not very capable of truly preventing crime. What we can do is load up the punishment on the backend and say that if you jack up and do something stupid, then we’ll drop a load on you. I think there’s all sorts of officers who told you that [on Wednesday] when they were in Austin. This law ain’t gonna stop anybody who’s bound and determined to do something. So if you want to have enhanced penalties, for instance, that says, you know, if you go into a bathroom looking like a woman, but you’re really a man, and you go in there for the purpose of doing harm to women, then boy we’re going to enhance your penalty. That might be the right thing to do. But this ain’t.

I don’t agree with his criminal justice prescriptions, but on balance, Williams is clearly making a lot of sense. He has compassion for transgender people, he respects the role and authority of local officials, and he speaks in a manner we would recognize as Republican, at least from a bygone era. Kudos to him for that.

The problem, which is something I’ve been harping on, is in what Williams doesn’t say. Ratcliffe doesn’t ask, and Williams doesn’t volunteer, if any of “this shit” will cause Williams to not vote for some or all of the Republican incumbents who are pushing it. Williams is still a Republican to the core, and he expresses his disdain for the Democrats later in the article, which is certainly understandable given who he is. But I’m not saying he needs to vote for any specific candidate, I’m just saying he needs to make it clear that a candidate who supports a bathroom bill won’t get his vote. I want to hear Michael Williams say “I can’t vote for Dan Patrick (or his State Rep or State Senator if it applies) and I urge other Republicans who agree with me to not vote for him as well”. Because while saying what he did in this interview is laudable, if in a year or two Williams follows it up with “well, I disagree with Dan on that but I support him otherwise”, or “I don’t like the policies that the Republicans in charge are pursuing but I can’t bring myself to vote for someone else”, or “I hate what they’re doing but as a Republican in this town I’ve still gotta make a living”, then the appropriate description is “craven”. Surely Williams, as a veteran politician himself, recognizes that the one sure way to get through to a politician is to tell him that he has lost your support. In this matter, it is the very least, as well as the most important thing, we can do.

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