Let me start this post off with saying that I love living in Houston, with its long Summers and mild Winters (and my wife loves the humidity… something about not needing as much moisturizer.)  But the State of Texas sometimes drives me nuts with some of the silly things that goes on here.  The two latest crazy things that happened over the past couple of weeks are just a taste of some of the craziness that happens in the Lone Star state.  First of all Judge Kevin Fine took it upon himself to try to overturn one of the things Texas prides itself on being the best at — executing people.  A few days later, Judge Fine stepped back from the ruling and is allowing the attorneys to file briefs on the matter, but it is still a touchy subject with the Texas Attorney General.  The second thing that made me roll my eyes was the politically appointed Texas State School Board of Education passed new state social studies standards that were so politically biased, that it should make even the most conservative blush with embarrassment. The thing that ties these two events together??  Putting politics where it just doesn’t belong by electing judges and appointing political hacks as the overseers of our public education textbooks.

Now I’m no stranger to election of judges.  I lived in Oklahoma for 16 years before coming to Houston in 2002. Oklahoma (or Texas ‘North’ as it seems to want to be) also elects its judges, and is very proud of the fact that, per capita, it executes more people than Texas.  I remember the first time I saw a billboard listing the name of a judicial candidate and announcing that he was a staunch conservative or she was a lock ’em up and throw away the key judge (apparently, none of them run under the heading of ‘Elect Me!!  I’m a Bleeding Heart Liberal that believes the best way to fight America’s meth problem if through treatment and education!’)  I thought then that electing judges and having them have to campaign and raise money from the very people that were going to try cases in front of them smacked of craziness at the very least and a serious conflict of interest at most.

A lot of people have told me that putting judges on the bench for life, or having them affirmed every six years can also lead to the same political bias, but I have to say that having a judge run for election every two, four or six years just exacerbates the whole political bias and creates a situation where a judge cannot be seen as lenient for fear that he or she will get voted out the next election as being too soft on crime.  Another side of the election system is what happened here in Harris County in 2008 when almost every judge got voted out of office.  Reason?  Because they were too soft on crime??  Nope… Because people voted for Obama for President in mass numbers, and did so by voting the party line.  That means in one fell swoop, judges with extensive experience on the bench got tossed out not because they were unqualified to hold the position, but rather simply because they happened to be the same party affiliation as John McCain.  Now, don’t feel too badly for them.  Many got initially elected for the same reason, but on a different political wind.

Now let’s point out some of the “new history” that a politically appointed Board of Education just approved for Texas school children (and many of your states will adopt these same textbook standards, so pay attention… there will be a quiz.)

  • To balance out the amount of pages dedicated to work of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Civil Rights Era, the Black Panthers were added as a way to show that it wasn’t all ‘non-violent’ action taken by people of color during the 60’s.
  • Textbooks will now be more fair to Joseph McCarthy by saying that America was infiltrated by those Pinko Commies and McCarthy had it right… but just went a little too far in his hearings.  (Gee… seems like I remember something like that being said about someone in the Axis in World War II when I used to play dominoes with the crazy old men down at the Courthouse when I was a kid in Mississippi.)
  • Hispanics played the following role in American social studies — oh, that part’s now blank.
  • Thomas Jefferson has been removed from the ‘Enlightenment Era’ of American history books and replaced with John Calvin (who, by the way, never lived in the United States).  I guess the topic of religious predestination is easier to describe to public school children than the fact that Jefferson was a deist and fathered children with his slaves.  
Adding politics into places it doesn’t belong, namely the judicial bench and the state board of education overseeing textbooks and educational curriculum, just creates insane situations where it just doesn’t need to exist.  Hyper-politicization creates situations where you end up with draconian rules like “zero-tolerance policies” or “mandatory jail sentences”  because no one trusts anyone else to make appropriate decisions.  We’ve probably come too far on the “over-politicization trail” to turn back now, but someone has to stand up and call this over-politicization of judges and school textbooks what it is… and that is just plain crazy!!