Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


Some men just can’t take a joke

Poor babies.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar accused some Republican men in the Texas House of engaging in “a retaliatory effort”

against her over her filing of a bill that would fine men $100 for masturbating.

On Tuesday, a separate and unrelated bill from Farrar — a measure that would allow attorneys’ fees to be recovered from other legal entities in the state — was taken up on the House floor. As Farrar laid out that measure, House Bill 744,she was asked by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, whether it was a “satirical bill.”

“I’m specifically focused on this bill and whether or not this is one of the satirical bills you filed,” Rinaldi said to Farrar.

Last week, Farrar filed House Bill 4260, a set of “proposed satirical regulations” that would penalize men for masturbating and create a required booklet with information about benefits and concerns regarding men seeking a vasectomy, a Viagra prescription or a colonoscopy. In explaining her motivation for the bill, Farrar said men in Texas should be subject to the same “unnecessary” and “invasive” procedures women in the state often had.


In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Rinaldi said, “When a representative admits to filing bills for satire and treats serious matters of life and death like abortion as a laughing matter, it calls into question the intent behind their entire body of work.”

“While [Farrar] is filing bills for comedy,” Rinaldi said, “Republicans are busy working on a budget, securing our borders, and providing tax relief.”

Farrar said HB 744 was a “simple fix” to ensure consistency for all government entities. The modern business climate, she said, allowed some legal entities to collect attorneys’ fees from corporations, but not the other way around. She added HB 744 was unrelated to HB 4260.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with these shenanigans,” Farrar said. “We are telling young women you can grow up to be anything you want to be, except when you disagree with certain Republican men.”

See here for the background. I always thought it was women who were supposed to have no sense of humor, but clearly Rep. Rinaldi was busy passing budgets and securing borders when the good Lord was handing them out. We should all try to be nicer to Rep. Rinaldi, you know how he gets when people are being mean to him. Speaking of such things, I should note that Rinaldi represents HD115, which is a district that ought to be quite competitive next year. You know, in case someone wants to recruit a strong female candidate to run against him. But please no one tell Rinaldi about this. We don’t want him falling to pieces on us again.

Boats N Hoes

With friends like these

The name of a fundraising group made waves in the tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats over women voters on Wednesday.

Political consulting firm employee Shaun Nowacki registered the political action committee, “Boats ‘N Hoes PAC,” with the Texas Ethics Commission on April 1, according to state records.

Nowacki is listed as comptroller for Blakemore and Associates Consulting Firm, whose namesake, Allen Blakemore, is the “senior strategist” for Republican Dan Patrick’s lieutenant governor campaign. The firm also advised Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee for governor, during eight previous campaigns from 1991 to 2004, according to Blakemore’s website.

Democrats on Wednesday were quick to pounce on the unorthodox PAC name, calling it “derogatory and offensive” toward women. Abbott, meanwhile, quickly distanced himself from the group.

“The terminology used in the name of this PAC is reprehensible and Greg Abbott denounces any person or entity that uses such offensive language,” said Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch, emphasizing that the consulting firm has not worked for him in years.

Abbott would not take money from the committee, Hirsch said.

That didn’t stop state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, from suggesting a correlation between the language and her opponent’s policies.

“Greg Abbott’s consultants are clearly taking their cues from Abbott himself, who campaigns with an admitted sexual predator of underage girls, who pays women less than men for doing the same work and who forms his education plan with the ideas of a man like Charles Murray, who argues women are inferior to men,” said Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña. “The language used by Greg Abbott’s consultants is offensive to every Texas mother and daughter — and the men who love them — and has no place in politics.”

Nowacki and Blakemore each did not return requests for comment. The name appears to be a nod to a gag in the 2008 movie “Step Brothers.”

For your edification. The lyrics are Not Safe For Work, so shut your door or plug in your headphones.

I almost feel a twinge of sympathy for poor Shaun Nowacki, who I’m guessing is a 20-something bro that maybe likes Will Ferrell movies a little too much and doesn’t have the sense God gave a turnip if it didn’t occur to him that maybe “Boats N Hoes PAC” wasn’t such a hot idea. I will note that this story has gone national, and all I had to do at Youtube to find that video was type in “boats” – autofill knew exactly what I was looking for. I should probably have something more intelligent to say about this, but I’m laughing too hard to think straight. I bet so is Molly Ivins, wherever she may be.

The buried lede on sexism in the Legislature

PDiddie thinks that the real shocker in that Observer story on sexism in the Texas Legislature wasn’t given the prominence it deserved.

Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.


Emphasis added by PDiddie. My takes on the story were here and here, though I didn’t mention this aspect. PDiddie correctly notes that getting caught surfing porn at work is very high on the list of things that tends to get one fired. That’s especially the case for government employees using government computers to do said surfing. Now, Senators aren’t government employees and they can’t be fired except by the voters, but I’m pretty sure that being caught visiting or whatever while supposedly conducting the people’s business would not be helpful for one’s re-election prospects.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what happened here. The information is presented in passing as an unsourced allegation, which could be exaggerated, mischaracterized, misremembered, or otherwise not quite what it looked or sounded like. The person in the best position to find out the specifics is story author Olivia Messer – and let’s face it, if there really was one or more Senators or their staffers actually surfing porn on the floor of the Senate, it’s news – but even if this turns out to not be what it was cracked up to be, there are some questions to be answered. Do legislators and their staff use a different network than reporters and other visitors? It must be the case that some form of proxy servers are used, so the next question is what sort of filtering is used, and how long are server logs kept? If someone had credible evidence that Legislator X visited Website Y on thus and such a date, what exactly would one need to do to get one’s hands on the details? I certainly don’t have a problem with people surfing to naughty websites – we’re all grownups here – but do it on your own time, and your own computer or tablet or smartphone. This is not anything that people living in the current century should be confused by. If that turns out to be too much to ask of one or more of our august lawmakers, we ought to know about it.sexism

Unfair pay

Patricia Kilday Hart uncovers some skulduggery in one of Rick Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have let victims of wage discrimination sue in state court after receiving letters against the measure from the Texas Retailers Association and five of its members, mostly grocery stores, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who authored HB 950 mirroring the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, said she unaware that the group and the businesses opposed her bill, or that they sought a gubernatorial veto.

Among the businesses advocating for a veto was Kroger Food Stores.

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Also writing to seek a veto were representatives of Macy’s, the Houston grocery company Gerland Corp., Brookshire Grocery Company, Market Basket, the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Here’s HB950, which received 26 Republican votes in the House on third reading. I take no pride in noting that I predicted the veto, though I did so on the usually reliable grounds of Rick Perry being a jerk. I had no idea that he had help in that department this time.

Two other prominent business groups – the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses – also wrote Perry urging a veto, but those groups opposed publicly during committee hearings. Thompson said she heard “not one time” from any of the retailers.

In his veto proclamation, Perry did not mention the opposition of any business groups, but cited Texas’ positive business climate as a reason to oppose the bill: “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

In his request for a veto, Ronnie Volkening, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers, said the bill was “unnecessary, in that existing law provides adequate remedies against employment discrimination; and harmful, in that it undermines opportunities for timely resolution of employment dispute in favor of fomenting expensive and divisive litigation.”


The retailers complained to Perry that under HB 950, the statute of limitations would be reset every time a worker received a retirement check. Not so, said Thompson, who said she rewrote the bill to exclude retirement benefits to win Republican support in the Texas Senate.

“They didn’t read the bill or someone get them the wrong information,” she said.

Gary Huddleston, Kroger’s director of consumer affairs, said he relied on the retailers association for his information on the bill. “I regret that Representative Thompson is upset and I am sure Kroger, along with the Texas Retailers Association, would like to discuss the issue with her,” he said.

Yo, Gary. You think maybe the time to “discuss the issue” with Rep. Thompson might have been during the session, when the bill was being written, heard in committee, and voted on? Because at this point, Rep. Thompson would be fully justified in discussing the issue of putting her foot up your rear end.

Let me refer once again to Nonsequiteuse for the reasons why this bill was a good idea and a necessary law.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a federal law, doesn’t mandate that women should receive equal pay for equal work, and it doesn’t make it illegal to discriminate (another law takes care of that). It is a more technical law that deals with the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit if they discover that they are facing pay discrimination.

The law used to be that you had a relatively short period of time from the first time you were paid unequally. So, you are hired for a job on January 1st, and get your first paycheck on the 5th (I know, bear with me), and it turns out you are being paid less than a man doing the exact same job. Before this act, you were presumed to know that and to have only 180 days to file a lawsuit to remedy it. If you didn’t discovery the discrimination until the following January (or even the following October, or whenever 180 days is from January 5th), you were out of luck.

Realistically, of course, we all know that no one walks around on day 5 of a new job comparing paychecks. People are socialized not to talk about salary, and some companies (and I’ve always wondered if this is legal) explicitly tell you not to talk about salary.

The outcome, of course, was that if you didn’t learn early in the game that you were being discriminated against, you were out of luck, and your employer got away with it.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes the game, and says the statute of limitations starts afresh with each discriminatory paycheck. So, as long as you’re getting a discriminatory paycheck, you have a cause of action.

In other words, as long as the employer is violating your rights, you have a chance to remedy the situation in court.

Seems fair, doesn’t it? I mean, nowhere in life do we say that if you break the rules long enough without anyone noticing that you get a free pass, so why would we do it with discriminatory pay?

Note that this law isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to prove discriminatory pay. It merely extends your time frame for filing a lawsuit.

The allowance to file in either state or federal court is important, too. State courts are less expensive and easier to access–consider that every county has a courthouse, but few have federal ones (just 29 places for federal courts to meet in Texas).

It’s about making it just a tad bit harder to screw the little guy. I’m not surprised that Rick Perry couldn’t care less about that – he has a long and established record of not caring about that sort of thing – and his heir apparent Greg Abbott has a similar record of indifference. While I can’t say it’s surprising that these business interests would go skulking about under what they hoped would be the cover of darkness to maintain their unfair advantage over their workers, it is nonetheless shocking and appalling, and it deserves to come with a price tag attached. To that end, there is a push to boycott Macy’s and Kroger until they reverse their stance on this. Rep. Thompson and Sen. Sylvia Garcia have already canceled events at Macy’s having to do with the annual sales tax holiday as a result of this. I never know how much to expect from this kind of action, but I fully support making sure people know what the businesses they support are up to when they think we’re not looking. The long term answer is of course to elect better legislators and especially better Governors, which is much harder to do but will reap much bigger rewards. In the meantime, go ahead and heap all the shame you can on the retailers that pushed for this veto. They deserve every bit of it. BOR, Stace, PDiddie, Texas Leftist, and Progress Texas have more.

Changing the culture

Nonsequiteuse looks at the big picture.


Let’s talk about changing the culture of the Texas legislature. What needs to happen, who needs to do it, what are the consequences, and how do we move forward.

The first suggestion that always comes up is that we should elect more women. I’m all for that.

I would expand that sentiment and say that we need a legislature that represents the great diversity of our state. Not just more women, but people of all races, all genders, all orientations, all religions, all levels of physical ability, and all socio-economic backgrounds.

That’s the long game, though, and we deserve more immediate answers and action. But what works when you’re facing institutional sexism? There are two things that will/have always made it tough to combat institutional discrimination, and, in this case, sexism:

There are those who will say it is the women’s responsibility to expose (or police, educate, train, or censure) the men.
There are those who will tell the women that we risk too much by exposing the offenders.

To to the first point: in some ways, and on a small scale, that one-on-one policing happens. Sen. Van de Putte is quoted in the article:

“At times. You know, [pornographic images] on their personal iPads or something. You just say, ‘Gentlemen, don’t bring that to the floor… Just do that at home.’”

Realistically, however, when sexism is endemic, one-on-one peer counseling and education places too great a burden on the group suffering from it while absolving those in power from responsibility. And let’s not even get into how unrealistic it is to expect a 23-year-old aide to call out a 6-term representative on gray area behavior like telling someone she looks nice today.

To the second point: if women start naming and shaming, women will be blamed for the consequences of that calling out, and, in may ways, punished more than the people being called out. Punished personally, and punished at a policy level. Because while it would be lovely if the ultra-conservative right wingers who vote regularly to abridge women’s rights were caught viewing porn or propositioning reporters, this behavior isn’t happening on only one side of the aisle.

In a time when progressives need every vote we can get, the question will be can we afford to lose an ally “just” because he (or she) participates in or tolerates sexist behavior?

In other words, when men vote to protect women’s rights or treat women equally to men at the policy level, women get told we have to put up with their bad behavior at the personal level, because collectively, we can’t risk losing their votes.

There is no quick answer. Many things need to happen.

She is writing about that Olivia Messer article in the Observer. I’m sorry to say that I took the easy way out by wishing that more women would call out the kind of behavior detailed in that story. I know better than to say stuff like that. It is of course everyone’s responsibility, first and foremost to not be the kind of person that engages in the appalling behavior Messer documents, to call it out ourselves when we see it regardless of whether it was aimed at us or not, and to support those who do call it out. We Democrats need to be asking the male legislators we’ve been voting for what they have experienced in the Legislature and what they are doing to combat the problem that their female colleagues have experienced. We also need to be prepared to perform electoral interventions on those that turn out to be part of the problem. We can’t say we didn’t know about the problem, or that we didn’t know it was that bad. It’s on all of us, and that most certainly includes me, to work to end this behavior. Human nature being what it is, it will never fully go away, but we can make it clear that it is unacceptable and comes with a high cost. I promise to do my part.

The good news is that the mainstream media appears to have taken notice of Messer’s article as well. Here’s Sharon Grigsby in the DMN:

I contacted two young women who have worked in different capacities in the Legislature — and both of whom I knew would tell me the truth. Both had the same reaction to my question about the “Sexist Little Secret” story: Yes, it’s accurate. One told me of being warned along the lines of, “You better watch out or you’re going to find yourself pregnant before the session is up with all the lawmakers walking around.” The other, despite being a well-educated policy specialist, spent a lot of her time “cutting cakes and being the office housekeeper.”

I’ve sent the Texas Observer article around to everyone on our staff to read, and I hope our editorial board will decide to write on this topic. Too often, when I finally gathered the courage to report the incidents I experienced as a young woman in the workplace, my stories were met with disbelief. “You must be exaggerating. XX wouldn’t do that” was the common feedback.

No one has any excuse for making that statement any more. Let’s keep that light shining.

On sexism in the Legislature

Just go read Olivia Messer’s story in The Observer about that great bastion of good-ol-boyism, the Texas Legislature. It’s appalling, but sadly not unexpected, nor unsurprising. I’ve heard way too many stories like it, from way too many women, in way too many contexts, to claim otherwise. I don’t have a good answer other than “we need to elect more women”, but I do want to note one facet of Messer’s story:


At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.

What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.

Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.

Yet, despite their strong feelings, women in the Capitol rarely talk about, except in the most private discussions, the misogyny they see all the time. It’s just the way the Legislature has always been.


When I asked why other women don’t speak up about the atmosphere, [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson cited political ambition. “Everybody who comes here, they’re looking at, ‘Can I go higher politically?’” she said. “To some degree, political office and winning is so important and imperative to us that we are willing to turn our heads and tolerate things that wouldn’t uphold the dignity of a woman. I’m not sure if we contribute to that. And it bothers me.”

She added, “I’m just not sure right now we have enough women who are willing to [speak up].”

I totally understand why more women don’t want to speak up about this – one need only look at some of the vicious things that have been said about Sen. Wendy Davis since her filibuster to comprehend why – but I wish they would anyway. Not as a first resort – it’s always best to speak to the offender directly, because some people do learn and some people really do mean no offense – but for the frequent flyers, many of whom fly beneath the radar on this. There ought to be some cost to being a pig. Some day, when stuff like this costs someone re-election, maybe that will have a more permanent effect. I sure hope so, anyway.

On a completely unrelated note, the fact that Janet Yellen is a woman is considered a factor in her candidacy to be Chair of the Federal Reserve. Because of course it is. BOR has more.

Jones and Caynon, take two

If you thought that the fight between Council Member Jolanda Jones and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Jeff Caynon was over, think again.

Earlier this week, City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones sent out a letter with nearly 70 names collected by firefighters expressing support for her advocacy about racial problems in the Houston Fire Department (more here).

Well, apparently, some of those whose names are on the letter didn’t actually sign the letter, and they are not happy about it.

There’s an affidavit in which the firefighters ask for a public apology and an investigation into how their names got on that letter. CM Jones then fired back. This is the sort of thing that could have been handled more privately and with a lower level of rancor if the relationship between Jones and Caynon not been so bad. Of course, if the relationship between the two of them been better, none of this would have happened in the first place.

I don’t know what to say about all that, but I will say this: Starting next week, I’m going to be interviewing Council members, now that I’ve done most of the non-incumbent candidates. You can be sure that the HFD saga will come up. Maybe I should try to schedule some time with Jeff Caynon as well.

Tuesday Council roundup

Council Member Sue Lovell, who is running hard for re-election after her close win in 2007, has added some fundraising muscle to her team.

Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem Sue Lovell announced today that Robert Miller would lead the Finance Committee for her campaign for re-election to At-Large Position 2 on the Houston City Council.

Miller is chair of the Public Law Practice Group at the law firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell and a past Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas.

“Robert Miller and I have worked together on so many important projects that are making a real difference for Houston,” said Lovell. “I am thrilled – and honored – to work with him again on my campaign.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that Houston needs Sue Lovell’s leadership in the next two years,” said Miller. “With a new mayor and controller facing an uncertain economy, Council Member Lovell’s knowledge, experience and results-driven approach will be critical to continuing our progress.”

This is a good get for Lovell. Miller’s one of those people who knows everyone and should bring with him a lot of opportunities to add to her campaign coffers. Expect her to have a strong 30-days-out report.

One of Lovell’s opponents, Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter now has a new website. She’s also on Twitter, meaning I’d better update my post. She did not report raising any money in the first half of the year, however, so it’s hard to say how much of a threat she’ll be to Lovell.

Speaking of fundraising, I’ve updated my spreadsheet to reflect the fact that a number of previously missing reports are now – finally! – available online. Anyone who still doesn’t have a report up at this point is presumed by me to have not filed one.

Over in At Large #5, new entrant Dr. Davetta Mills Daniels had her campaign kickoff reception tonight. You can see the invitation and sponsor list here as a Google doc. I’ll be very interested to see what her finance report looks like in October.

Meanwhile, At Large #5 Council Member Jolanda Jones released this letter of support from current, former, and retired Houston firefighters. I presume that was in response to this story about female firefighters who met with Mayor White and pushed back on the charges of rampant sexism and racism within HFD.

Finally, the Houston Press has a detailed report from Monday’s Council hearings on BARC that includes grades for various Council members’ performance. That’s a novel way to approach this sort of thing, and I daresay it will get some strong reactions from inside City Hall Annex.

HFD’s shame

I really don’t know what there is to say about the recent ugliness within the Houston Fire Department. It’s a shame and an outrage, and I sincerely hope the steps Mayor White is taking go a long way towards making sure this never happens again. We’re better than this, I know that.

City Controller and Mayoral candidate Annise Parker addressed the incidents here. Candidate Gene Locke sent out a press release, which I’ve included beneath the fold. I’ve not seen anything from Peter Brown or Roy Morales, but if I do I’ll add it to this post.

UPDATE: I have received a statement from Peter Brown as well, which I have added beneath Gene Locke’s statement.