Democracy in action
September 28, 2007 8:40 AM   Subscribe

In the Texas Legislature you can pass laws using persuasion...or just pressing other members' buttons before they come back from the washroom.
posted by reformedjerk (138 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yee Haw!
posted by four panels at 8:44 AM on September 28, 2007


There should really be some sort of thumbscan technology in place so that if you really wanted to do this, you'd have to cut off someone's hand first.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:49 AM on September 28, 2007


nah, retinal scans and eyeballs, that'll have em rolling in the aisles, plus the upside they won't be able to see what jackasses they are.
posted by edgeways at 8:53 AM on September 28, 2007


Well that's just a bit over the "fucking ridiculous" line in my book.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:01 AM on September 28, 2007


What do you expect from a state who's unofficial motto is a threat?
posted by wfrgms at 9:02 AM on September 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


How do we know they didn't make an arrangement ahead of time, e.g., "I'm out of town on the 20th, could you vote yes on this bill for me?". Otherwise, I would think legislators would complain about votes being entered that they didn't make.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2007


Any indication that any of those votes were other than pre-approved "this is how I'm voting, I'll be at lunch" proxy votes?

I mean, I find the idea of legislators gleefully sniping votes from each other as amusing as the next guy, but this otherwise sterling piece of television journalism sort of failed to address that angle.
posted by cortex at 9:08 AM on September 28, 2007


*leans over, flags Pastabagel's comment for him*
posted by cortex at 9:08 AM on September 28, 2007 [6 favorites]


Ah, the good ol' Texas Leg.

To be fair, one presumes that folks aren't surprised by which way their votes are cast when they're not present. The infotainment piece linked here doesn't bother to report on that.
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2007


Everything's bigger in Texas, including the number of votes you get.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:11 AM on September 28, 2007


How do we know they didn't make an arrangement ahead of time

In at least one instance (starting at 0:56), two guys (Hancock and Elkins) reach to vote for the same absent member. And, hilariously, while Elkins' back is turned another member votes for him. Ding ding!
posted by mhum at 9:14 AM on September 28, 2007


Sad to say, this isn't unique to Texas. A California Democratic lawmaker named Carole Migden was accused of doing the same thing in 2005 -- when she was trying to pass her own cosmetics safety bill through the Assembly.
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2007


Cortexbagel:
At 00:54:
"Elkins goes to vote for Merrit but Hancock is faster. Elkins heads back to his desk, but before he can vote, Joe Crabb turns around and beats him to it."
On preview,. what mhum said.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2007


Any indication that any of those votes were other than pre-approved "this is how I'm voting, I'll be at lunch" proxy votes?

Does it matter when the rules and regulations of the legislature say you can't do it in either case?

Oh, and what mhum said. Some guy actually sole his vote while his back was turned.
posted by shmegegge at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2007


What do you expect from a state who's unofficial motto is a threat?

Dude, it's still an anti-littering slogan.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2007 [6 favorites]


But the important factor here is that at least one legislator who is voting like this has also sponsored legislation that would make it a requirement for people to show photo id when they vote. The fact that the extra votes are being made with the absent voters' consent does not change the fact that the legislators are being allowed to vote without even being present -- much less without id. Using that logic, people should be allowed to vote for each other by consensual proxy.

So the whole thing is highly hypocritical. The less significant voting public needs to prove their identification, while the more significant voting legislation can just vote for each other. It is hyporcrisy at its finest.

And, of course, if all of those votes are not consensual, then you have a mind-blowing problem on top of the hypocrisy.
posted by flarbuse at 9:22 AM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


What do you mean, I voted to impeach myself?!?!?!
posted by blue_beetle at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


What do you expect from a state who's unofficial motto is a threat?

The official motto is Friendship, which seems pretty anodyne.

If by "unofficial motto" you mean Don't Mess With Texas, then I am surprised. Inside the state the phrase is known primarily as an anti-littering slogan.
posted by grouse at 9:24 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Elkins goes to vote for Merrit but Hancock is faster...

Yes, but is it clear that any of those votes were other than the known voting intentions of the parties involved? If this is people executing a long-standing tradition of just getting known votes recorded in a timely fashion, I wouldn't be surprised by collisions when two or more people go to cover the button quickly for a known voting position. Have you never gone for the elevator button at the same time as someone else? Have you never worked quickly on a team in a production environment?

It'd be great to get some details on the practicalities of this from the actual legislators, but I'd be shocked if it were anything but mutually-agreed-upon "you know how I'm voting" pragmatism.

Does it matter when the rules and regulations of the legislature say you can't do it in either case?

It matters because if there's actual vote stealing going on here, they'd have almost certainly hammered on that in the segment; and that they didn't even address the question suggests that there isn't, they know that, and they know they'd have a stupid(er?), totally unairable segment on their hands if they were honest about it.
posted by cortex at 9:26 AM on September 28, 2007


Vote early! Vote often!
posted by ericb at 9:27 AM on September 28, 2007


At the very least the Texas Legislature is breaking their own rules.
posted by ericb at 9:32 AM on September 28, 2007


So the whole thing is highly hypocritical. The less significant voting public needs to prove their identification, while the more significant voting legislation can just vote for each other. It is hyporcrisy at its finest.

It's hypocrisy at it's thinnest and reachingest. I've got no comment on voter-id legislation, but running a state election for however many hundreds of thousand or millions of voters is worlds different from something as contained and internally visible as the state legislature.

Hypocrisy would be the legislation author refusing to present ID when she went to vote at a state election. This is just cute irony dressed up in bad journalism.

And, of course, if all of those votes are not consensual, then you have a mind-blowing problem on top of the hypocrisy.

And if all of them are consensual, you don't have a mind-blowing problem. Why in god's name would they not at least mention (let alone cover the hell out of) non-consensual proxy voting? It doesn't add up.
posted by cortex at 9:34 AM on September 28, 2007


It matters because if there's actual vote stealing going on here, they'd have almost certainly hammered on that in the segment; and that they didn't even address the question suggests that there isn't, they know that, and they know they'd have a stupid(er?), totally unairable segment on their hands if they were honest about it.

Cortex, the point of that piece isn't that there is vote-stealing in the legislature. Rather it's pointing out the hypocrisy of legislators who insist that average voters must show ID when voting to ensure that each individual is only allowed to vote once, while they routinely vote several times for their colleagues despite rules against the practice. I fail to see how the producers were being dishonest.
posted by reformedjerk at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2007


What do you expect from a state who's unofficial motto is a threat?

Texas' state motto ain't got nothing on Virginia's.
Sic Semper Tyrannis!
posted by thandal at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2007


"Yes, but is it clear that any of those votes were other than the known voting intentions of the parties involved?"

No, it's not clear. That's the problem. Or one of them. What about that is hard to understand? That's why it's against the rules.
posted by 2sheets at 9:44 AM on September 28, 2007


What do you expect from a state who's unofficial motto is a threat?

Texas' state motto ain't got nothing on Virginia's.
Sic Semper Tyrannis!


Or New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die"
posted by thewittyname at 9:50 AM on September 28, 2007


In the U.S. Senate and House Senators and Representatives, respectively, have to be on the floor, "in chambers" in order to cast a vote. No votes-by-proxy -- be it from an aide or fellow legislator -- are permitted. For example, in yesterday's Senate vote to extend hate crimes legislation, John McCain could not cast a vote due to his being absent.

Regarding the Texas legislature, with this type of approach do they go ahead an vote in instances where they don't even have a quorum?
posted by ericb at 9:52 AM on September 28, 2007


"Yes, but is it clear that any of those votes were other than the known voting intentions of the parties involved?"

Why would that guy have sneaked up behind someone who was there and cast their vote for them? There would have been no "I can't be in Austin Tuesday, vote NAY for me" type deal with the guy actually being there.
posted by spaltavian at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2007


That's why it's against the rules.

But the rule is "Any member found guilty by the House of knowingly voting for another member on the voting machine shall be subject to discipline deemed appropriate by the House."

Any rule with such a weak-ass enforcement policy is really more of a suggestion.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2007


No, it's not clear. That's the problem.

So take that and run with it. Why is it not clear? We watch a segment here where a reporter spent some quality time collecting footage of state legislators registering proxy votes. Check. Lots of footage of the button presses, with slo-mo play-by-play coverage.

So, one of these is true:
1. the reporter is criminally, mind-blowingly incompetent, or
2. the reporter did some investigation into the obvious question of vote fidelity in light of all the proxy voting.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that it's not (1), which leads to the notion that (2) turned up a complete lack of anything reportable. That implies that there was no positive evidence of unexpected proxy voting, because, again, why would they even blink before blowing that wide open?

So if there's no positive evidence forthcoming to the reporter, there's a couple of broad possibilities: the legislators and other interested parties refused to discuss it or to answer definitively on the nature of agreements about votes; or they were willing to answer and the answer was "no, we don't do that."

Neither of which makes a very sexy addition to the segment; the former, though, would at least be worth mentioning for a little bit of "what are they hiding" drama—and drama is clearly what this team was going for with the segment—so the omission of even that makes it seem all the more flaccid.

I could be dead wrong on this. The reporter and the news editor could both be completely braindead, incapable of even thinking that this angle would be worth examining. But I doubt it; I'm a lot more inclined to blame it on a slow news day and bad reporting.

Why would that guy have sneaked up behind someone who was there and cast their vote for them? There would have been no "I can't be in Austin Tuesday, vote NAY for me" type deal with the guy actually being there.

See previous comment. My honest reaction is that they were all just trying to get known votes in so they could get through the day's work and get the hell out of there.
posted by cortex at 9:58 AM on September 28, 2007


Regarding the Texas legislature, with this type of approach do they go ahead an vote in instances where they don't even have a quorum?

Ah, yes....answer my own question. There was that time when Democrats fled to New Mexico to attempt to block a vote on grounds that there wouldn't be a quorum back in Texas: Democrats did what they had to do.
posted by ericb at 9:59 AM on September 28, 2007


Heh. This is actually very common. I worked for a summer in the Louisiana Legislature. All of the representatives keep a yardstick or a golfclub on their desk so that they can vote the machines around them when someone's not there.
posted by ColdChef at 9:59 AM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Texas Democrats who fled to New Mexico and Oklahoma: The Texas Eleven in attempting quorum-busting.
posted by ericb at 10:02 AM on September 28, 2007


Hang on cortex, I'm still hung up on one thing:

at what point do you believe that Elkins said to the guy in front of him "even though I'm right here, feel free to ring my vote in for me if my back is turned for even a second. I'm voting [this way]?"

for that matter, maybe there are two things I'm hung up on:

do you honestly believe, since we're all just speculating here anyway, that the most likely thing is that everyone in the texas leg knows exactly beyond any reasonable doubt precisely how everyone within reaching distance of them is going to vote, and that they all trust each other to record the votes accurately and without cheating? that, in politics, seems like the most likely scenario to you? I ask because I've never heard of that level of trust and transparency anywhere ever, especially not in politics.
posted by shmegegge at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2007 [6 favorites]


I know that they want the easy way out. We don't pay them to find the easy way out thouh. Ghost payrolling is a huge crime here in Chicago. What if one of the representatives wasn't there for a vote because she was representing a client in court that day? Is that double dipping? I say "Yes it is". If they are not there to vote--isn't that fraud to claim that you did that work (isn't pressing the button work?)?

They may claim good intentions but you know what, I want them in their seats voting or being counted as absent. That would cut a bunch of crap out of the system. If you don't have the people in the room to vote--you lose. Pretty simple.
posted by zerobyproxy at 10:13 AM on September 28, 2007


Hey, it's fun reading people trying to defend this. Hilarious, really. It comes down to the fact that legislators are voting for each other despite rules they all voted for which clearly state.....hey, wait a second.......
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:32 AM on September 28, 2007


I'm with cortex. It's odd, no doubt, but without more reporting, I'm going with the simplest, most reasonable explanation: the senators were speeding things up, and when voting for others, casting the vote the way the absentee member would.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2007


This is completely eFFed!
posted by MNDZ at 10:37 AM on September 28, 2007


What if one of the representatives wasn't there for a vote because she was representing a client in court that day?

In most semiprofessional-and-up legislatures anyway, it's a lot more likely that someone would be absent because they're in a committee meeting. For real and no shit, what goes on in committee -- actually writing legislation or overseeing executive agencies -- might be more important, and a better use of a legislator's time, than mindlessly adding their voice to a bill that's passing by a landslide.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2007


Well, it's clearly against the rules, so either they change the rules to allow it (which kinda undermines the whole "Democracy" thing) or they actually follow the rules.

This isn't hard, people.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:39 AM on September 28, 2007


Another Chicagoan here that just saw this as ghost payrolling - although they may call it somrthing else in Texas. This is just there way of keeping the big bucks job that capitalizes on one's position in the legislature, while taking turns with colleagues actually minding the store. That is what the tv news report should have focussed on - or is a state reps' job in Texas considered only part-time? Checking....
posted by readery at 10:40 AM on September 28, 2007


Hilarious. They look like bingo ladies stamping a fistful of cards...
posted by anthill at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2007


From UT website
State legislators are paid meager salaries. Senators and representatives alike earn only $7,200 per year, or $14,400 for a two-year legislative period. Some may consider this salary generous, since after all legislators work only for 140 days over two years. However, this salary equals just slightly over $100 per day. Even if our legislators worked only eight hours per day, this would equal only $12.86 per hour for the people who make our state laws and conduct oversight of executive branch offices.
They are out earning a living, I guess.
posted by readery at 10:44 AM on September 28, 2007


They may claim good intentions but you know what, I want them in their seats voting or being counted as absent. That would cut a bunch of crap out of the system. If you don't have the people in the room to vote--you lose. Pretty simple.

As much as I'd like to agree with that, it just isn't so simple. Reps are busy people - they have better things to do, most often, than sit at a desk all day, every day, and hit one of two buttons repeatedly. That's a game of hungry hungry hippoes and Reps are elected to do far more than that. A monkey could do that.

Its also important to know how your Rep voted on issues important to the constituency. If he or she isn't there, it shouldn't be reported as an Abstention when they would have voted. For example:

Constituent: "Hey, Rep, thought you were passing a bill to get me ten blowjobs a day."

Rep: "I worked hard on that, unfortunately I was in the John when it came around. The voted schedule moves pretty fast and I just missed it. Whoops! Maybe when it comes around again in a few years."

Constituent: "So what? No blowjobs for six more years?"

Rep: "Sorry about that. Remember to vote me in next term by the way."

Constituent: "Fuck that! I'm going Republican!"

And you see where this is going. Remember, the Office of the Representative is what's important, and many people serve under that office besides the elected rep and they are (unless under some situation of extreme negligence) all going to vote the same way.

Besides, everyone on the floor already knows how each and every member is going to vote long before the ballot is cast. I would not be surprised to find Republicans voting for their Democrat neighbors against their own bills.

And since not a single person has complained, it seems to be working just fine.

So fuck this reporter. She hates blowjobs for the constituency.

And you don't hate blowjobs, do you?
posted by mr_book at 10:49 AM on September 28, 2007


grouse writes "If by 'unofficial motto' you mean Don't Mess With Texas, then I am surprised. Inside the state the phrase is known primarily as an anti-littering slogan."

I always thought this was a mess with us and you'll be sorry sort of motto. This would make a good street poll.

zerobyproxy writes "They may claim good intentions but you know what, I want them in their seats voting or being counted as absent. That would cut a bunch of crap out of the system. If you don't have the people in the room to vote--you lose. Pretty simple."

Do American legislatures not have debates on bills? If they do how can you make an informed vote if you haven't been listening to the debate?

The way it is pictured to work in this story it seems like Texas could save a swack load of money by closing the legislature building and just wiring these buttons into the representative's offices. That way staff could vote and you wouldn't have anyone voting multiple times.
posted by Mitheral at 10:50 AM on September 28, 2007


at what point do you believe that Elkins said to the guy in front of him "even though I'm right here, feel free to ring my vote in for me if my back is turned for even a second. I'm voting [this way]?"

He probably never explicitly said that. If the common understanding was that if you know how someone is going to vote, the vote is open, and they haven't dialed it in (probably because they're not at their desk), guy in front may have just jumped on a quick get-it-done button punch without bothering to double check that Elkin's was in the vicinity. Looking at how quickly and confidently everybody was punching the votes in, it looks like this is something that's been going on for a good long while and is so routine that they more-or-less autopilot it.

I don't know if Elkins was surprised by what he found. The camera was on them and yet we didn't see a reaction shot of Elkins confronting the other guy or wondering how his vote got tallied, so my inclination is to think that Elkins was not surprised or upset by what happened. Which suggests that (a) this sort of thing is normal, and (b) the vote was entered correctly.

do you honestly believe, since we're all just speculating here anyway, that the most likely thing is that everyone in the texas leg knows exactly beyond any reasonable doubt precisely how everyone within reaching distance of them is going to vote, and that they all trust each other to record the votes accurately and without cheating? that, in politics, seems like the most likely scenario to you? I ask because I've never heard of that level of trust and transparency anywhere ever, especially not in politics.

I honestly believe that the most likely thing is that every proxy vote punched in by a neighbor was done with the confidence on the part of the puncher that that vote was the known stance of the absentee being proxied. I believe this because casually and routinely entering wrong votes on someone's behalf seems like such a huge fucking transgression that it's hard to believe no one anywhere in the legislature would have noticed or complained, or that an inquiring reporter wouldn't have heard about it from the folks involved.

You say transparency, I say transparency: unless these votes are tallied and then the record destroyed immediately thereafter, there's a clear record of who voted for what. If a legislator found out that they voted differently by proxy than how they intended to vote, why would they not raise hell? Why wouldn't anyone's contituents notice? Why wouldn't anyone notice?

These folks work together. They talk. They're there to get a job done, and as much as they may disagree on the specific issues about which they collectively discuss and vote every day, they're all in the same boat and there's no mystery to the process for them. It's not Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: this is their job. I have no difficulty at all imaging them getting to be very, very casual and pragmatic about handling the rote aspects of that job, which may practically (despite being a violation of their rules) include tit-for-tat vote entry for absent legislators when they've made their vote intentions clear.

I'm not saying it's not possible that anything question has happened in the votes, and that would be an interesting story. Hell, the driving mechanics of the pragmatic routine of proxy voting even without any problem votes is kind of interesting in its own right. But this, what we have here? It's bullshit. It's shit television news, trying to make mountain of molehill and selling it all on a minor irony and a knowingly unaddressed implication.
posted by cortex at 10:52 AM on September 28, 2007


Arn't you allowed to shoot people for that in Texas?
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on September 28, 2007


Never in my life have I seen or heard the phrase "mess with" defined as "make messy." "Mess with" means "to interfere with" or "to provoke." An anti-littering slogan would be "Don't Mess Up Texas." I'm pretty sure that "Don't Mess With Texas" is a threat.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2007


Arn't you allowed to shoot people for that in Texas?

Yup, they oughtna be doin' that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2007


I dunno, Faint of Butt. It could just be a hopeful imperative.
posted by cortex at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2007


I'm pretty sure that "Don't Mess With Texas" is a threat.

I lived there for a couple years. It's not about keeping Texas tidy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:15 AM on September 28, 2007


Reps are busy people - they have better things to do, most often, than sit at a desk all day, every day, and hit one of two buttons repeatedly.

Votes aren't taken every day.

And I say that representing and voting on behalf of their consituents is not a "better thing to do," but the most important thing legislators have to do.
posted by ericb at 11:17 AM on September 28, 2007


He probably never explicitly said that. If the common understanding was that if you know how someone is going to vote, the vote is open, and they haven't dialed it in (probably because they're not at their desk), guy in front may have just jumped on a quick get-it-done button punch without bothering to double check that Elkin's was in the vicinity.

I hear what you're saying, and it makes sense, but there's a logistical side to it I'm not wrapping my brain around. They're so busy doing these votes that they have to race each other to punch absentee votes in. That's how little time they have to spare. I can only see this situation existing when they're plowing through dozens of votes a day. If this were all over a one-a-day vote, they could all take bathroom and lunch breaks whenever they wanted and just make sure they didn't do it at the end of the day, because that's when they'd be voting. But they all somehow know how they're all going to vote on these dozens of issues because during the course, presumably, of routine debating in the leg they've all... done what? handed out itemized catalogs of their intended votes during the day? Sat around the water cooler they don't have time to go to memorizing each other's intended votes? You want to tell me that a bunch of the democrats all know how each other are going to vote because they're all voting the same way and have organized that fact in advance (or republicans, obviously) and I'm with you. But we see in the video a republican punching in an absent democrats vote. Now, I'm not in texas, but I know someone involved in my local legislature who has lead me to believe that the democrats and republicans where I live are enemy camps as far as strategy sharing is concerned. I doubt there's been any cross party strategizing in texas, either, but that is admittedly speculation.

I guess what I'm getting at is that how many votes can everyone confidently know, and how can they know them when they're presumably there to make up their minds about the issue just before voting? They're clearly going through many votes a day, and if they're not debating them at the time (and thus opening the possibility for someone to change their mind (and no I'm not just being naive, I mean there's always last minute politicking and alliance changing going on)) then they don't need to rush their asses through punching buttons all day. The whole thing just seems completely unlikely that they're all so rushed to get through the day that they're innocently punching in the votes of people they've somehow had the opportunity to memorize the intended votes for despite being so rushed to get through the day. The conclusion seems to undermine the initial premise is what I'm saying. And although it does seem highly unlikely that no one would raise a stink about having their vote stolen, I can also see it being part of a schoolyard mentality where no one says anything because they all do it and no one wants to get in trouble. Yeah, it still sounds improbable, but both sides do to me. I just find the "oh yes, the politicians are all innocently doing each other favors to save time" angle to be a little too rose colored, so it seems the less likely of the two. For instance, it seems like a likely reason to cut the camera away from the floor during votes if they know what they're doing isn't right or innocent. That is, of course, just further speculation.
posted by shmegegge at 11:18 AM on September 28, 2007


And I say that representing and voting on behalf of their consituents is not a "better thing to do," but the most important thing legislators have to do.

Texas' problem is only symptomatic of a larger disease, of course.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 AM on September 28, 2007


Do American legislatures not have debates on bills? If they do how can you make an informed vote if you haven't been listening to the debate?

They have debates in the chambers, yes, but much of the arguing/convincing/vote getting doesn't happen there -- it's in the hallways or the committee rooms or wherever the legislators happen to caucus.
posted by JanetLand at 11:22 AM on September 28, 2007


"Mess with" means "to interfere with" or "to provoke."

She messed with her hair. I went in her room, and messed with her things.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:26 AM on September 28, 2007


Arn't you allowed to shoot people for that in Texas?
Dunno. Let's check who voted on it.
posted by robot at 11:31 AM on September 28, 2007


I'm pretty sure that "Don't Mess With Texas" is a threat.
. . . . .
I lived there for a couple years. It's not about keeping Texas tidy.

. . . . .

From Wikipedia:
"The phrase Don’t Mess with Texas is a slogan for the Texas Department of Transportation, and was developed to reduce littering on Texas roadways used as part of a statewide advertising campaign in 1986."
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2007


I guess what I'm getting at is that how many votes can everyone confidently know, and how can they know them when they're presumably there to make up their minds about the issue just before voting?

They're presumably there to make up their minds about the issue. 'Just before voting' is, exceptions aside, probably not SOP. It's nice to think that vigorous and persuasive debate will touch hearts and change minds and just in general make for good cinema, but I'd be shocked if on most matters—especially routine, uncontentious ones—people didn't pretty much know where they stood pretty much from the get go.

and no I'm not just being naive, I mean there's always last minute politicking and alliance changing going on

Sure, but for everything? Hell, even for most things? I don't know, maybe I'm underestimating the proportion of votes that are actually up in the air by the time a vote comes around, but my expectation is most of the stuff the vote on is somewhere between robotically procedural and essentially uncontended, well before the vote comes.

Someone with some direct insight on or experience with an average Texas State legislative session would be an awesome addition to this discussion, of course.

I just find the "oh yes, the politicians are all innocently doing each other favors to save time" angle to be a little too rose colored, so it seems the less likely of the two. For instance, it seems like a likely reason to cut the camera away from the floor during votes if they know what they're doing isn't right or innocent.

It's a job. It's a workplace. I don't think it's that unlikely at all that they'd be polite and pragmatic about the little details like this. It resembles more than anything any busy workplace I've ever been in. If it makes all of their lives easier to agreeably execute one of those details like this, why wouldn't they? Someone could raise a fuss, or someone could actual proxy vote in bad faith, but then you'd have that someone vs. a whole bunch of other people who are angry at him or her for rocking the fucking boat. You want to talk about a bi-partisan effort, you be the one guy to ruin it for the rest of the state legislature.
posted by cortex at 11:35 AM on September 28, 2007


“I lived there for a couple years. It's not about keeping Texas tidy.”

Well, nevertheless, you're wrong. It's an anti-littering slogan. It's always been an anti-littering slogan. It continues to be an anti-littering slogan. It's is only an anti-littering slogan. It did not exist, in any form, prior to an anti-littering campaign where it was selected as the anti-littering slogan.

Is this clear enough for everyone?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:36 AM on September 28, 2007


Is this clear enough for everyone?

I dunno, maybe we should vote on it.

onetwothreeGO
posted by 23skidoo at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2007


Sad to say, this isn't unique to Texas.

Nor particularly new. I recall observing similar shenanigans from the gallery in the SC General Assembly as a middle-schooler, asking my father about it, and getting my first thorough taste of disillusionment with the political process (to be followed very shortly by breaking news of the Watergate scandal).

And that this is happening in the Texas Lege (where I also had occasion to visit briefly as a UT student) puts me in mind of a quip about "...Bexar County, Texas, where all the dead folks vote in alphabetical order as many times as necessary."
posted by pax digita at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2007


Pastabagel:
How do we know they didn't make an arrangement ahead of time, e.g., "I'm out of town on the 20th, could you vote yes on this bill for me?".
The way this is handled within Texas House guidelines is by what's called pairing. A legislator who will miss a vote will make a gentleman's agreement with somebody on the other side of the issue who won't be voting either. That way the two non-votes cancel each other out.
posted by chipr at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2007


Ahh... there's the problem! Not too many gentlemen left in the lege these days.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:47 AM on September 28, 2007


Just to add a citation, this bit about the history of DMwT is from the campaign's web site:
From roadside attractions to trashy distractions. Back in 1985, our Lone Star State wasn’t looking so great. With trash on the roadways becoming an unsightly and costly problem, the Texas Highway Commission gave the green light to launch an extensive public education campaign.

Research gave us a good idea of who the offenders were and how best to reach them. In simple, straightforward style, the Don’t Mess with Texas slogan was born, and we’ve been reminding Texans to keep litter in their cars ever since.

Contributing to our immediate success was a star-studded campaign trail that continues to this day. With real Texans like Los Lonely Boys, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Willie Nelson and LeAnn Rimes boldly saying they wouldn’t litter, it makes you wonder who would.

Milestones

1985

Don’t Mess with Texas is born, sponsored by the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation, now the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Sorry to be strident about this, but I cannot fathom how anyone, especially anyone who lived there, could think this is anything other than the slogan for an anti-littering campaign. I was in Texas when the campaign began and I've lived there off-and-on since then. There is absolutely no ambiguity about the slogan for anyone who's seen it in context. That is to say, there's no ambiguity for anyone with the exception of someone who has seen it only on a highway sign and in no other context. The PSAs are unambiguous.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:48 AM on September 28, 2007


It's is only an anti-littering slogan.

EB, the wikipedia article already linked to says that, while it originated this way, the state of texas has essentially given up on enforcing the illegal usage of the term for things beside the anti-littering campaign. it has become used for something else, despite having originated as purely and anti-littering slogan.
posted by shmegegge at 11:50 AM on September 28, 2007


Well, nevertheless, you're wrong

Intent and usage, as always, are tricky:

``TxDOT needed a tough-talking slogan that would also address the unique spirit of Texas pride. Thus, "Don't Mess with Texas" was born.' (emph. added)

The slogan was meant, therefore, to be intimidating or representative of imposing culturally-shared strength, in some rhetorical sense. That's from the DOT, which bought and paid for that slogan. I suppose you could disagree with them, if you like.

I would personally argue (from experience) that is also how it is used in modern vernacular. That's only my interpretation, which you would be free to disagree with.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on September 28, 2007


(And clearly you do, wow.)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:51 AM on September 28, 2007


Oh, come on. It was intended to be tough talking about littering. It's not used officially any other way. I've not myself ever heard (that I can recall) anyone using the slogan unofficially in a more generally bellicose fashion. But so what if people do? Such would have happened in any state.

As a rule, I fucking hate Texas. I have zero—absolutely zero—personal interest in defending the state or most of its residents. But characterizing this slogan as anything more than a well-known anti-littering slogan is stupid. BC, particularly, didn't qualify what he said in the least.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2007


if you really think that the spirit of "don't mess with texas" is confined to its origin as an anti-littering slogan, you must never have met any real texans. sure, you're going to tell me you lived there and you know better, but i won't believe you.
posted by Hat Maui at 11:58 AM on September 28, 2007


It's not used officially any other way.

But it is used unofficially in a number of other ways — many more ways, in fact. Additionally, the people who came up with it had more than just litter in mind. If it was just "anti-litter", they could say simply, "Pick up after yourself." The slogan was chosen as it tuned in to romantically-held aspects of Texan culture.

BC, particularly, didn't qualify what he said in the least.

I'm not sure what I need to "qualify" here, but I do apologize for contributing to this (admittedly, to me at least, interesting) derail.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2007


Do American legislatures not have debates on bills?

Yes.

If they do how can you make an informed vote if you haven't been listening to the debate?

(1) By reading the bill ahead of time
(2) By having their staff read the bill ahead of time and having it summarized for them
(3) By discussing the bill with like-minded legislators ahead of time
(4) By taking notice of how the committee voted on the bill; who supported and did not support it there
(5) By looking at a summary put together by someone else that you trust
(6) By listening to what party leaders have to say
(7) By paying attention to which interests are for and against the bill
(8) By discussing the bill with people from the executive
agency that deals with that program

At least in Congress, most bills aren't important. Instead, they're fiddly, technical changes to existing programs that are deeply, radically uninteresting (unless they affect you). In many of these cases, votes on the floor boil down to "I don't understand a goddam thing about these formulas for how disabled you are if you're missing a big toe versus a regular toe, nor do I or my constituents give the slightest damn. But the people on the committee and the VA both swear up and down that this does something good."


I say that representing and voting on behalf of their consituents is not a "better thing to do," but the most important thing legislators have to do.

You say that, but you're wrong. Writing and editing bills is more important than voting on a vote that's sure to pass anyway. Doing legislative oversight is likewise more important. There's a reason why, at least in Congress, people who concentrate on making floor speeches and having 100% attendance rates for votes are derided as useless show-horses, as opposed to the work-horses doing the actual business of governing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:08 PM on September 28, 2007


I've not myself ever heard (that I can recall) anyone using the slogan unofficially in a more generally bellicose fashion.

As a presidential candidate in 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush had a ready reply for those who would criticize the governance of his state: "Don't mess with Texas."

Yeah, how could anyone possibly think this was more than an anti-littering program?

The meaning of phrases change. The phrase was selected for a reason. Obviously, it's a play on the more common use of "don't mess with", and it works because Texans generally feel that way. Bush co-opted the slogan in 2000 and the meaning has changed ever since.


Several dozen supporters greeted the Bushes as their bus pulled into Flint for a rally, including 2-year-old Emily Naylor who held a sign upside down that said, "Don't mess with Texas."


Why would people bring anti-littering signs to Bush rallies? Stop being obtuse.


And here, on a site selling mugs with the slogan: "Texas pride all summed up on one coffee mug-"Don't Mess With Texas."

Here's a bumper sticker. The description says "Let them know you mean business" and the sticker itself does not reference littering or the environment in any way.

But characterizing this slogan as anything more than a well-known anti-littering slogan is stupid.

Either your wrong or Texas is full of the most environmentally proud people on earth (how many residents of other states put "anti-littering" bumper stickers on their cars?)
posted by null terminated at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2007


*you're goddammit
posted by null terminated at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2007


Willie Nelson says "Don't Mess With Texas" and George W. need say no words!
posted by ericb at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2007


Why would people bring anti-littering signs to Bush rallies? Stop being obtuse.

Perhaps it was a criticism of vast pollution along the Texas-Mexico border.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 PM on September 28, 2007


ROUX, you keep characterizing these votes as "being sure to pass anyway" or as "landslides". If they're so all-fired unanimous on all these votes, why does the busy, busy rep need to have his illegal proxy vote cast anyway? Either it's important enough for the rep to vote on it or it's not; you can't have it both ways.
posted by hattifattener at 12:25 PM on September 28, 2007


“sure, you're going to tell me you lived there and you know better, but i won't believe you.”

Uh-huh. Between 1983 and 2004, a total of 21 years, I lived in Texas for 12 of those, including 1986 when the campaign began and then from 1996 onward. I lived in Amarillo, Lubbock, and Austin. I grew up less than thirty miles from Texas from the age of 3. I know countless people who were born and raised in Texas. Farmers, ranchers, urbanites. Racists, Republicans, and religious fanatics.

Don't Mess with Texas is an anti-littering slogan. Everyone knows it; it is ubiquitous. Probably many, many people have at some point or other jokingly used the phrase in another context. This would be the case in any other state with such a slogan. It's especially true because, Texans are obnoxiously chauvinistic about their state. Nevertheless, the slogan has not entered into ubiquitous use where the average Texan uses it as a belligerent challenge to the rest of the US. Such is the impression given by people in this thread, and such an impression is very misleading.

“Additionally, the people who came up with it had more than just litter in mind. If it was just ‘anti-litter’, they could say simply, ‘Pick up after yourself.’ The slogan was chosen as it tuned in to romantically-held aspects of Texan culture.”

Sure, it evokes that Texas pride and chauvinism. Texas isn't unique in having this character. It's certainly among those where this is strongest. But it doesn't pick up on a characteristic that's unique to Texas and the subtext isn't really “a threat”. That's reading far too much into it.

If people here are interpreting the slogan—as conceived and officially used—as an outwardly-directed “threat”, they are misinterpreting it. Have some Texans misappropriated it to be such? I don't doubt it. But in my eight years there from 1996 to 2004, I don't recall ever hearing it used in that fashion by anyone. I may be an outlier, but the claim that is being made is strong enough that it would have to include my own experience, nevertheless. Hat Maui says as much, asserting that if I've ever met a “real” Texan, then I'd agree with him. Well, I have. For example, I have a friend named “Dixie” who grew up and still lives in the Hill Country, for chrissakes. She drives a truck, carries a gun, and I've never heard her use the expression in that fashion. My sister grew up in Texas and has spent most of her life there until recently. I've not heard her use the expression in that fashion. I know many born, bred, and raised-as Texans. They don't use this expression in the manner claimed by those here.

I'm not saying that the slogan can't be used this way. And I'm not saying that there aren't people who use it this way. But I am saying that the campaign, as designed and expressed, does not have the subtext BP and others are claiming; and I'm saying that unofficial use of the slogan with that subtext is not so common as to have, in any sense, overtaken its anti-littering roots. The degree to which this subtext exists in the average Texan's cultural subconscious is just not that great. People who are saying otherwise in this thread are projecting.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:32 PM on September 28, 2007


C'mon, EB, it's not hard to parse, and your spirited defense leaves me wondering what the hell you have at stake here.

It's a pretty clear "Don't mess with [by littering, originally, then expanded to any other connotations the speaker desires] Texas [otherwise, we'll kick your ass]."

Your anti-subtext defense is bullshit, and I'm amazed you're clinging to it so vociferously.
posted by klangklangston at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2007


I'm former Texas Lege employee (not a legislator, though) and thought I'd add just a bit here.

1.As others have suggested, this goes on a lot and really has more to with speeding the process along than anything nefarious. One piece of legislation may literally be voted on dozens of times as it moves through the process. There are three readings in each chamber, votes on amendments, votes on rules of debate, etc., etc. With 150 House members, all with "day jobs," cigarettes to smoke, lobbyists to schmooze, and potty breaks to take, it is a struggle to move this process along and members routinely have agreements to vote for each other.

2.Technically business cannot be conducted if there isn't a quorum. BUT, a member has to request an official verification of "who's here" before a lack of quorum is declared and business is abandoned. What you saw happening with the votes happens also with morning roll call. Often the board will be lit up with nearly 150 members showing present, when anyone can see there are only about 25 folks milling about on the floor. Again, in the interest if speeding things along, this is often overlooked until someone wants to make a stink.

3. The fact that it happens all the time, though, doesn't make it OK.

4. Debbie Riddle deserves as much media coverage as possible until she hoists herself on her own pitard.
posted by pantarei70 at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a pretty clear "Don't mess with [by littering, originally, then expanded to any other connotations the speaker desires] Texas [otherwise, we'll kick your ass]."

No, it's not. Seriously. It's just "Don't do it." No reason is given why you shouldn't. Yes, it's left open ended so the reader can fill in whatever reason why they shouldn't, but to suggest that's the only interpretation is "because we'll kick your ass" is wrong.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2007


Sounds like they can just have two people show up, one punches the button one way the other punches them the other. Over time you could perhaps get a pair of trained Bonobs. They could entertain themselves, and their constituencies, between votes by all manners of delightfully transgressive sexual activities.
posted by edgeways at 12:46 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Don't disregard Texas's feelings on the subject, or, well, honestly, Texas just doesn't know if this relationship is going to work out. Sometimes, Texas doesn't really feel like you respect it. That's what hurts most."
posted by cortex at 1:08 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Over time you could perhaps get a pair of trained Bonobos.

Oh, sure! We'd all love to put a bunch of trained bonobos in there, edgeways, but as you know, you go to legislative session with the monkeys you have, not the monkeys you want.
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2007


I know that they want the easy way out.

There is one: anyone caught doing this is put against the wall and shot. This isn't democracy, and I'm stunned people here are trying to defend it.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2007


Oh, sure! We'd all love to put a bunch of trained bonobos in there, edgeways, but as you know, you go to legislative session with the monkeys you have, not the monkeys you want.

Bonobos are chimpanzees, not monkeys. Oh boy do you not want to make that mistake here. Don't mess with Jane Goodall's fans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 PM on September 28, 2007


Metafilter missed its meds this morning, I see. People are actually defending this behaviour? You do know these same people who are double-voting in the legislature are passing acts to send people to jail for double voting, right? It's good to know that everyone, even legislators, has so little respect for the process at this point, that we can just play whack-a-mole all day to "speed the process along."

And EB, why do you think the phrase "Don't Mess With ____" was chosen as an anti-littering slogan? Maybe it had some sort of prior meaning? Just taking a wild guess here.
posted by mek at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2007


“...leaves me wondering what the hell you have at stake here.”

The truth? Isn't that sufficient?

The way those arguing with me have presented it, this “don't fuck with us” usage is common and looms larger in the average Texan's mind than does the anti-littering usage. And that's not true. The slogan has not been largely co-opted. You don't regularly hear it used in that fashion. Blazecock Pileon has gone so far as to claim that the “don't fuck with us” connotation was the intention of the campaign's designers all along.

I believe that the people here are reacting to the slogan out-of-context and while having certain prejudicial ideas about Texas in mind when they do so. The slogan is easily misinterpreted in this way. If you're on an Interstate and you see one of these signs, just bare and with no context, it's jarring. But the belligerence in the phrase is directed at Texan litterers.

I'm annoyed because people are overreacting to the slogan and they're projecting onto it. This kind of self-certain ignorance annoys the hell out of me. Allow me to quote Blazecock Pilone again:

“I lived there for a couple years. It's not about keeping Texas tidy.”

He didn't say: “I lived there for a couple of years and I heard it used outside the anti-littering context”. He said that it's not about keeping Texas tidy. This is a very strong claim, made authoritatively. And it is false.

I'm not denying that there is a hint of that belligerent Texas chauvinism in the slogan. But even so, people are misunderstanding it. The people here are arguing that what's really underneath that slogan is what Bush said explicitly in null terminated's quote above: that it is an outwardly-directed “don't fuck with us” sentiment, even in its design by the anti-littering campaign's planners. And this is not true. The chauvinistic belligerence is, quite naturally for an anti-littering campaign, about the land itself, the entity of “Texas” which is quite literally despoiled by litter. It's intended to abstract Texas cultural pride, place that pride on the land itself, and then challenge litterers (almost all Texans, importantly) to consider the implications of insulting that pride. It's not a message from Texas to the rest of the world.

Can it be appropriated as such? Of course; and it has. But this would have happened in any state where there is a greater-than-average chauvinistic pride. More to the point, this appropriation of the slogan simply isn't ubiquitous—and ubiquity to the point of erasing the anti-littering connotation is exactly what BP asserts.

If people had said, “well, sometimes it's used as an outwardly-directed threat—but mostly it's just a well-known anti-litter campaign”, I wouldn't be arguing. But people aren't claiming it's “anti-litter plus”, they're claiming that it's not really even anti-litter (anymore or originally).

This kind of gross exaggeration which approaches or attains simple falsehood, especially when motivated by a totally or mostly uninformed negative bias, is caustic and pernicious. It's the essence of the risible term Islamifacism, for example. And the smugness is just intolerable.

And, again, it's extraordinary for me to be defending Texas and Texans. Being a native of a neighboring state does not endear one to Texas, as a rule. None of my family is from there—some of them moved there later. I despise Amarillo and Lubbock and I found that Austin, which is truly a super-cool city, nevertheless has some certain typical Texas characteristics which repulse me. My sister went to school with people who were openly involved with the KKK. I grew up being pissed-off at the crowds of Texans who fish in “my” lakes and ski on “my” mountains, often talking too loudly and leaving trash in their wake. More to the point, I'm sick and tired of Texan Pride—I was sick of it at the age of eight. I have zero emotional incentive to specifically defend Texas and Texans in this context. But I do have an emotional incentive to defend truth from falsehood, ignorance, and prejudice. I always have an incentive to do that.

On Preview: “Maybe it had some sort of prior meaning? Just taking a wild guess here.” Wild guess: wrong. I never heard the phrase before 1986. I don't believe that the phrase existed per se before 1986. Why do you assume the phrase was pre-existing and you then guess it had this meaning, which was then co-opted for the anti-littering campaign? I ask because, from my point of view, your assumptions and guesswork are perfect examples of a bias that is, apparently, even managing to overwhelm (most) of the reports from people who live in or who have lived in Texas for many years.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:25 PM on September 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Metafilter missed its meds this morning, I see. People are actually defending this behaviour? You do know these same people who are double-voting in the legislature are passing acts to send people to jail for double voting, right?

Do you want to define in careful terms what the "double-voting" that the state legislators are doing consists of? Because mostly what I've been arguing against is what looks like a tremendously bad piece of reporting, and some very strong reactions to an implication of that piece that doesn't seem to bear out under any application of common sense.

I've got no problem with the state actually enforcing the existing proxy-vote prohibition, but to mix that up with the idea that these folks are actually commandeering or hijacking votes is ridiculous without some clear evidence that that's what is going on. And most of the reactions here that I've been arguing against are a reaction to the latter, as yet wholly unevidenced issue.
posted by cortex at 1:25 PM on September 28, 2007


"...the State Highway Department has issued more than 1 million antilitter bumper stickers with the motto 'Don't Mess With Texas.' As many as 100,000 of them were distributed out-of-state.

...a Texas businessman is canvassing Wall Street investment firms, seeking backers for a major business venture. He visits all the big companies, but everyone turns him down. When at one prominent firm, the Texan asks why, the banker who turns him down shows him where the problem lies. He takes the Texan on a tour of several executive offices in his company, all of which have the 'Don't Mess With Texas' sticker prominently displayed. Apparently, in the wake of the lower oil prices that have damaged the Texas economy, the bumper sticker took on new meaning."*
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2007


A story about the Texas voting that I like goes;

One day one of the members was pissed that the other members seemed to pass bill after bill without reading them, or if they did read, understood little. He decided to make a point and introduced a resolution to honour Albert de Salvo. The resolution stated in part:

“This compassionate gentleman's dedication and devotion to his work has enabled the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future. He has been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.”


The resolution sailed through with unanimous support.

Albert de Salvo was, of course, the Boston Strangler.
posted by phoque at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2007


I'd always interpreted "Don't Mess With Texas" as "Hey, are you looking at us funny? Well don't mess with us,m 'cos we'll fuck you up".

That it's something to do with littering seems a bit odd. Do people who buy the T-Shirts know this?
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2007


And uhhh, I guess this is what happens when you pay legislators $7,200 annually. I'm guessing that salary is to keep low/middle class people from even considering a career in politics, but it also ensures that those who do, spend as little time on it as possible. Does $7,200 even cover travel, suits, and drycleaning? It definitely doesn't cover that plus lunch.
posted by mek at 1:32 PM on September 28, 2007


As a northern Yankee, I think that the "Don't Mess With Texas" has passed beyond its original intent as a anti-litter slogan and entered the common usage for a stereotype many have of Texans -- as being, brash, "larger-than-life," "everything is bigger in Texas," etc. (i.e. bigger hair, bigger cars, bigger assholes, etc.).
posted by ericb at 1:33 PM on September 28, 2007


The way those arguing with me have presented it, this “don't fuck with us” usage is common and looms larger in the average Texan's mind than does the anti-littering usage.

This is actually how I think it is:
The "...“don't fuck with us” usage is common and looms larger in the average non-Texan's mind than does the anti-littering usage."
posted by ericb at 1:35 PM on September 28, 2007


EB, you're completely insane. Now that that's out of the way, here's a result of a google book search on "don't mess with."

Perspectives on Marginality: Understanding Deviance - Page 153
by James R. McIntosh - Social Science - 1974 - 320 pages
"As long as they don't mess with us, we don't mess with them. ".

posted by mek at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2007


It's not a message from Texas to the rest of the world.

Well surely you realise that the only time the rest of the world has really heard that phrase has been in a threatening/stupid contesxt, ie. coming out of Bush's lips. To me, it ranks up there with the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

But this would have happened in any state where there is a greater-than-average chauvinistic pride.

Isn't that reason enough not to have such a loaded phrase as an official State slogan?
posted by stinkycheese at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2007


Does $7,200 even cover travel, suits, and drycleaning?

Barely covers the cost of a set of golf clubs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2007


If you're really curious, I found the phrase "don't mess with the Germans" in a book from 1847. Fun with google book search.
posted by mek at 1:52 PM on September 28, 2007


Anti-Litter Nuclear Submarine.
posted by EarBucket at 1:58 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Searching on the slogan and “shirt”, I found this press release from the TxDOT in 2004 announcing that they will sell a shirt for the first time:

“According to TxDOT research, 96 percent of Texans know the Don't Mess with Texas slogan, but only 75 percent know it means ‘don't litter‘.

‘While we're glad our slogan has become so popular, it's sometimes used to signify state pride rather than litter prevention,’ said Howdeshell. ‘We hope having official merchandise tagged with a litter-prevention message will help people remember the slogan's true meaning.’”


I'm not surprised that 25% of Texans didn't know that this was an anti-litter slogan. 25% of any group can't find their ass with both hands.

This quote demonstrates two things, I think. First, that the alternative connotation was/is not so ubiquitous that it has swamped the anti-littering connotation. Second, that the anti-littering commission is not quite comfortable with alternate connotation. Also note that it took almost twenty years for the state itself to sell t-shirts. Frankly, I feel pretty strongly that if the state had in mind the alternative connotation from the beginning, and was happy to utilize it, then they'd have sold t-shirts a long, long time ago. But the truth is that the campaign has never done anything at all to encourage a general “don't fuck with us” vibe.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2007


Well surely you realise that the only time the rest of the world has really heard that phrase has been in a threatening/stupid context, ie. coming out of Bush's lips.

Yep. And many of us having a mental image of him as a faux-Texan*, wearing a flight-suit replete with cod-piece, cowboy hat, strutting across the dais with his shit-eating grin, challenges Al-Qaeda, "Bring 'em on!"

* -- lest we forget that George W. was born in Connecticut, went to prep-school at Phillips Academy (Andover, Massachusetts), undergraduate at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) and graduate at Harvard Business School (Boston, MA). Truly a true-blue-blooded Texan!
posted by ericb at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2007


Ethereal Bligh: How do you explain the numbers of t-shirts bumper stickers sold and the prevalence of these signs at political rallies?
posted by null terminated at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2007


it's sometimes used to signify state pride rather than litter prevention

That sums it up nicely. I've never met a Texan who used the phrase to mean anything other than "Don't litter" or "I am proud to be a Texan". People don't use it to mean "I am from Texas, and if you are not from Texas I am threatening you."
posted by 23skidoo at 2:11 PM on September 28, 2007


Mek, your Google search proves nothing. The argument here isn't that the slogan is a sort of a threat—it is. The argument is who is the threat aimed at in both the intended usage and the informal usage. Some are arguing that the former had an eye toward the “don't fuck with us” connotation when the slogan was first devised. Most are arguing that the common, unofficial usage of the slogan has this connotation. I disagree that the anti-litter usage has any such connotation. And while I don't disagree that the slogan is unofficially appropriated by those who intend this connotation, my argument is that they are not ubiquitous and certainly have not been so influential that, for the average Texan, this has become the essence of the slogan.

As I wrote before, the challenge is to Texans who litter and the entity issuing the challenge is the pride of Texas as embodied by the land itself. None of that involves a “don't fuck with us” as a general cultural expression by Texans directed at outsiders. Yet this is how people are misinterpreting it.

ericb wrote:

“The ‘don't fuck with us’ usage is common and looms larger in the average non-Texan's mind than does the anti-littering usage.”

Very much I agree with the latter. The former, sort of. Depends upon what you mean by “common”. If it means “not too hard to find examples of”, then yes. If it means “common enough that DMwT ‘really’ means ‘don't fuck with us’ to Texans”, then no, certainly not.

The bottom line is that the “don't fuck with us” connotation looms very large in the non-Texan's mind, but not so much in the Texan's. Which, by the nature of this contradiction, isn't understood by the non-Texan.

When we married and my ex-wife moved down here to the states from Canada, she experienced a fair bit of culture shock at the ubiquity of US flags and, also, businesses and such which were named “American somethingorother”. To her, and to most Europeans, all these flags and American seem to be explicitly, intentionally, and consciously patriotic, chauvinistic, and mildly xenophobic gestures.

But while there's a, shall we say, “subterranean” truth to this—that is to say, for example, that a more patriotic and chauvinistic, perhaps mildly xenophobic nation is more likely to exhibit such behavior—it's not the case that Americans with our flags and these names are generally consciously aware of these connotations or tendencies. It's partly just The Way Things Are and since most of us aren't aware that most national environments are much less ostentatious in their patriotism, we're certainly not being ostentatious in our patriotism by design, in order to, say, challenge Canadians and Europeans with our chauvinism. It may seem that this must be our intention to many Canadians and Europeans, but it's not.

Are we chauvinistic and more patriotic (obnoxiously so) than others? Generally, yes. Are these public gestures symbolic of that part of our cultural identity? Generally, yes. But one must nevertheless be careful to understand these symbols in context and not merely interpret them from one's own out-of-context experience of them. The difference between me and you does, in fact, tell you something about me. But it tells as much about you, and you'd better not forget that, especially when you start telling me what I intend and what I'm “really” saying.

The reason that non-Texans so easily misinterpret the slogan by so greatly emphasizing its antagonism and xenophobia and such is because those traits do, in fact, exist in Texas in relative amounts greater than many other places. But it's an error to project your own non-Texan emotional reaction to the slogan onto the intentions of each and every Texan who displays such a bumper sticker or shirt, and even moreso for every highway sign and the people who placed them there.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2007


But this would have happened in any state where there is a greater-than-average chauvinistic pride.
Isn't that reason enough not to have such a loaded phrase as an official State slogan?


I'd say just the opposite. The slogan was very carefully targeted:
Research conducted in September 1985 revealed that males between the ages of 18 and 34 were the chief culprits. Since softer messages like "Pitch In" were proven to be less effective with this audience, TxDOT needed a tough-talking slogan that would also address the unique spirit of Texas pride. Thus, "Don't Mess with Texas" was born.
By all accounts it has been incredibly successful. TxDOT claims that littering decreased 72 percent over the early years of the campaign.

Ethereal Bligh is exactly right. Tim McClure dreamed up the slogan in 1986. It's a registered trademark of TxDOT.
posted by grouse at 2:19 PM on September 28, 2007


Yes, they co-opted an existing phrase (which was threatening and masculine in nature) in 1986. Well, this argument was fun, I need a drink. TGIF.
posted by mek at 2:25 PM on September 28, 2007


Jeez, some people on Metafilter will find any at all to argue about if it means they get to spew bile reminding us all how much they hate Texas and Texans. I know it's cool and all to hate on Texas because Bush claims to be from here (though he really is just a self-made stereotype of what he thinks a Texan is), but the last time I checked, Texas wasn't the only state responsible for voting him into office (twice). Really, you can spread the hate around a little more.

Over the years, a lot of people have claimed authorship of the now-famous line Don't Mess With Texas. But the truth is, it was conceived early one morning by a thirty-eight-year-old native Texan named Tim McClure a few weeks before a big presentation to the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation.

The true story, as McClure tells it, began after a sleepless night worrying about not having a slogan, a battle cry, for their upcoming presentation. Most of his creative team's solutions had centered on the word "litter" -- after all, it was an antilitter campaign.

As the sun was rising, McClure went for a restless walk. Even in his sleep-deprived state, he realized that in all his years of growing up in Teas, the only time he had ever heard the word "litter" was in reference to kittens.

But as dawn broke, he noticed something that shocked him out of his daze. His own neighborhood was strewn with all manner of debris -- cans, bottles, plastic cups, and paper -- an angry collection of callously tossed trash.

If this isn't litter, he though, then what is it? It was then that his mother's gentle scolding echoed in his brain. Just like his room back home, this was a mess. Four simple powerful words struck him like a bolt out of the blue: Don't Mess With Texas.

To a Yankee, the line might not mean much. But to a Texan, the message was loud and clear. If you're proud of your home, you keep it clean. Period.

--Don't Mess With Texas: The Story Behind the Legend

In Texas, Don't Mess With Texas means don't mess with Texas by littering OR you will receive an expensive ticket. It is a threat. The threat is if you choose to toss your trash out that car window, you will have to pay a price. That is how it is understood in Texas. How people outside Texas interpret it is their own business, and just because Bush co-opted it to mean something else doesn't mean it does. Do we all really take everything Bush says to mean what it really means now?

As far as the actual topic if this post goes, if they want to do proxy voting, they should change the rules to allow for it. I personally would prefer they actually have to be there to vote and actually spend time doing the things they are supposed to be doing, but I have learned to expect less from the Texas Leg. I don't necessarily have a problem with proxy voting for missing members, so long as the votes get entered the way they were meant to be, and if that wasn't happening, I'm sure that story would be the one were discussing, because that would be big news and someone would have noticed by now that their votes weren't being entered correctly.
posted by Orb at 2:38 PM on September 28, 2007


They should have 'live' / 'die' buttons for the death penalty like in that old Dr Who episode 'Vengeance on Varos'.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:47 PM on September 28, 2007


Since DeLay gerrymandered the districts in Texas, the results of all legislative votes are pre-determined by the Republican caucus. Who votes where is meaningless except for the bigger picture: whoever pushes the most buttons wins a Slurpee (unless it's a Democrat, in which case another public work is named after a member of the Bush family in retribution for the Democrat being so uppity).
posted by forrest at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2007


or is a state reps' job in Texas considered only part-time?

Yes.
The Texas Constitution creates a part-time legislature that meets for a relatively brief 140 days every other year. The members, so-called citizen legislators, work within a political culture with a strong suspicion of government and a long history of accepting the involvement of wealthy business interests in politics. [from the link]
posted by rdr at 2:50 PM on September 28, 2007


I am utterly shocked that someone from Canada posted this thread.
posted by oaf at 4:24 PM on September 28, 2007


The reason that non-Texans so easily misinterpret the slogan by so greatly emphasizing its antagonism and xenophobia and such is because those traits do, in fact, exist in Texas in relative amounts greater than many other places. But it's an error to project your own non-Texan emotional reaction to the slogan onto the intentions of each and every Texan who displays such a bumper sticker or shirt, and even moreso for every highway sign and the people who placed them there.

Is it an error to project my own non-Texan emotional reaction onto the intentions of every Texan that has worn that slogan and demonstrated a behavior unrelated to littering, outside of Texas? I've only been to Texas a few times. Never noticed "Don't mess with Texas" in regards to littering while I was there. I have noticed numerous (self-proclaimed Texan) asshats that have co-opted the slogan to mean something other than an anti-littering campaign.

But thanks for the derail. I had no idea the slogan originated with an anti-literring campaign.
posted by ryoshu at 5:10 PM on September 28, 2007


Jesus Christ, this is totally plate of beans territory.
posted by Eekacat at 5:42 PM on September 28, 2007


All else aside, I really like the phrase "your Google search proves nothing."

In fact, well, look. There's nothing to do for it. It's a necessity:

Metafilter: your Google search proves nothing.
posted by cortex at 6:02 PM on September 28, 2007


How do we know they didn't make an arrangement ahead of time, e.g., "I'm out of town on the 20th, could you vote yes on this bill for me?"

When I was on the condo board years ago, voting in absentia required a signed authorization form.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:18 PM on September 28, 2007


Jesus Christ, this is totally plate of beans territory.

Fuck you. Don't Mess With Our Plate of Beans!
posted by ericb at 6:57 PM on September 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


This discussion has been very enlightening, the law creation process is much different in Canada. It may be naive but I'm not aware of any of our legislature bodies where this kind of thing would be acceptable.

ericb writes "This is actually how I think it is:
The '...“don't fuck with us” usage is common and looms larger in the average non-Texan's mind than does the anti-littering usage.'
"


Exactly. As someone who's only briefly visited Texas the "we're big and bad and you don't want to cross us" usage is the only one I'm familiar with.
posted by Mitheral at 8:06 PM on September 28, 2007


You all just keep arguing about slogans, good work!

Who needs democracy, anyway? Slap them buttons.
posted by blacklite at 8:18 PM on September 28, 2007


Just FWIW, I think "Don't mess in Texas" would be much less open to the interpretations people take exception with.

That said, my Texan grandmother might well think that it means not to shit in Texas. I suppose it would be better for the people outside of Texas, but not so much for the people who live in Texas.
posted by wierdo at 8:36 PM on September 28, 2007


Just for you blacklite: They ought to change the rules to allow what they're doing or knock it off.
posted by wierdo at 8:37 PM on September 28, 2007


You all just keep arguing about slogans, good work!

Hey, it's not like we're able to do anything about the button pushing or even be that suprised: It is Texas after all.

I always just kind of assumed Texans *liked* things like that.
posted by Artw at 9:06 PM on September 28, 2007


One key difference, mithreal, is that our government oversees a population of only 25 million. That's comparable to New York. The US Feds oversee ten times the population... and need to consider four or five times the provincial-level sub-governments.

I believe the USA would greatly benefit by breaking up into several independent countries sharing a common free trade agreement, a lá the European Union system. It would permit each region to focus its GDP into (a) sustaining their resources; (b) preserving their culture; (c) maximizing their income.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:26 PM on September 28, 2007


True that the population is an order of magnitude different (though it's 33 million+ for Canada). But Texas has a population of 23 million, the numbers are similar. I wasn't saying the US method was bad per se (though I think this ad hoc proxy voting is at least worrying), just different. The contrast with the system we have is interesting. It's like studying a foreign language.

I've always been fascinated with the straight up two party system the US has. The debate over in the Hillary thread shows up what I think is a fundamental failing of the bipolar nature of American politics and makes me glad we have all those whacky third parties (Reform, NDP, Social Credit, Bloc etc.).
posted by Mitheral at 9:45 PM on September 28, 2007


shorter EB: i can distill the pure truth if you simply give me at least 17,000 words.
posted by Hat Maui at 1:56 AM on September 29, 2007


You exaggerate. I can manage it in no more than 8,000.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:36 AM on September 29, 2007


True that the population is an order of magnitude different (though it's 33 million+ for Canada). But Texas has a population of 23 million, the numbers are similar.

A fraction's difference, indeed. If you combine Canada's federal and provincial legislatures and add on the icing & sprinkles that is the Senate, you have well over 1000 people being paid >$100k/yr to be full-time politicians. Mandated budgets for the ruling party and official opposition multiply that expenditure. Texas' $7,200 a year to 150 people is downright bizarre. You get what you pay for.
posted by mek at 2:17 AM on September 30, 2007


You get what you pay for.

I disagree. It is widely known that Texas has the best legislature that money can buy.

All joking aside, having known many, many people who worked in Texas government, they almost always think that having a part-time legislature is a good thing. It gives the legislators less time to mess things up any more than they already do.
posted by grouse at 2:34 AM on September 30, 2007


Seems to me that the state of Texas has enough natural resources, enough value-adding business, and enough population requiring education, healthcare, access to support programs, and etc., to warrant running the place full-time.

Though I suppose OTOH most of the actual "running of the state" is the duty of public employees, not the elected reps.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2007


five fresh fish: If the conservative legislature were in session more it would just be an extra opportunity for them to cut those programs further. DO NOT WANT.
posted by grouse at 10:17 AM on September 30, 2007


Well, if you assume the legislature is inherently malevolent, of course you want them working as little as possible... you'd be better off disbanding them altogether. We're working from the premise that a democratic society is desirable - a stretch of the imagination, I know.
posted by mek at 11:07 AM on September 30, 2007


What would you propose instead of having a legislature instead? Or was that just a straw man?
posted by grouse at 12:06 AM on October 1, 2007


Anyway, having the legislature in for five months every two years is enough time to pass the budget and sunset reauthorization bills (not that they always manage it) and maybe pass a few popular new statutes.

It leaves less time for the sorts of stuff you might read about in Canada as a "news of the weird" story about the wacky new bill some idiot legislator is proposing. Idle hands are the devil's workshop.
posted by grouse at 12:10 AM on October 1, 2007


Are you thinking of the guy who decided to sue god? That was an American (USian!) senator, I think...
posted by five fresh fish at 4:40 PM on October 1, 2007


I can give you truth in one word, and here's the amazing part: You pick the word! It can be any word, real or imaginary, and within its meaning will be truth, all truth, truly truth. For this amazing act I only charge $5.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:15 AM on October 3, 2007


It leaves less time for the sorts of stuff you might read about in Canada as a "news of the weird" story about the wacky new bill some idiot legislator is proposing.

Um, yeah, in theory. Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature still manages to find plenty of time to argue about the most ridiculous things. A few years ago it was high school cheerleader outfits and routines being too sexy. (Previously on Mefi.)
posted by Orb at 2:38 PM on October 3, 2007


I said less time. If there weren't already too much of it, we wouldn't have such concerns.
posted by grouse at 4:32 PM on October 3, 2007


It is widely known that Texas has the best legislature that money can buy.

Damn! I thought New York had the best legislature money could buy. You mean I moved all this way for nothing??
posted by ubiquity at 4:49 AM on October 4, 2007


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