Hamilton County Texas Democrats


Allred outraises Cruz in latest quarter, but Cruz has more cash on hand

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, Credit: The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Colin Allred’s campaign outraised Sen. Ted Cruz’s in the second quarter of 2024, though the Republican senator has amassed a larger campaign warchest going into the final stretch of the race.

Cruz’s campaign took in $7.9 million from April to June, according to a filing submitted Monday, slightly more than he raised during the same quarter during his last campaign in 2018.

Allred, a Dallas Democrat, brought in a record $10.5 million this quarter. He continues to outperform former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who raised $10.4 million during the second quarter of 2018 when he ran against Cruz. O’Rourke shattered fundraising records in his highly watched Senate bid, though he ended up losing by less than 3 percentage points.

Cruz’s campaign now has a cash advantage, with $12.1 million cash on hand compared to Allred’s $10.4 million. The senator also has additional funds raised in affiliated accounts, including his joint fundraising committee and leadership PAC, though some of that money was raised on behalf of other candidates.

“We continue to see growing support for Senator Cruz in every corner of the Lone Star State,” said Cruz spokesperson Nate Maddux in a statement. “This quarter’s record-breaking fundraising numbers are indicative of Texans’ steadfast support for Senator Cruz, but the job isn’t done yet.”

Allred’s $10.4 million cash on hand is roughly the same as what he had six months ago. His campaign has spent aggressively on television ads in Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.

National Democrats have shown early confidence in Allred’s campaign but have yet to plow the kinds of funds they have spent in other states, where they are defending vulnerable Democratic incumbents. The latest polling shows a competitive race in Texas, with Allred just 3 points behind Cruz.

“Texans are sending a clear message to Ted Cruz that they are ready to move on from him and his policies that are hurting Texas families, and that they are ready to elect Colin Allred to bring a new generation of leadership to the Senate,” said Allred campaign manager Paige Hutchinson in a statement.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/07/15/colin-allred-ted-cruz-senate-race-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Republicans Put Trans, Nonbinary Teachers in the Crosshairs

On April 19, Governor Greg Abbott spoke at the Young Conservatives of Texas gala at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, voicing an opinion that would later become enshrined in the Texas Republican Party platform and spreading misinformation spawned by a far-right influencer whose posts have repeatedly incited threats against the subjects of her ire.

“Just up the street from where we are right now is Lewisville,” Abbott said. “They had a high school teacher who was a man who would go to school dressed as a woman in a dress, high heels, and makeup. Now, what do you think is going through the mind of the students in that classroom? Are they focusing on the subject this person is trying to teach? What I do know are these two things. This person, a man, dressing as a woman in a public high school in the State of Texas is trying to normalize the concept that this type of behavior is okay. This type of behavior is not okay, and this is the type of behavior that we want to make sure we stop in the State of Texas.”

Abbott was referring to Rachmad Tjachyadi, a Lewisville ISD public school teacher who resigned from his job in March amid social media outrage after a video circulated of him wearing a pink dress. Chaya Raichik, a right-wing social media personality known online as LibsOfTikTok, highlighted it in an inflammatory post that falsely claimed Tjachyadi has taught while “dressed in full drag and has a fetish for wearing women’s clothing.” Abbott promoted a post on X that featured the video shared by LibsOfTikTok.

In reality, Tjachyadi, a queer cisgender man, did not regularly dress as a woman or in drag while teaching. He was wearing a dress as a costume for a dress-up Spirit Day, something he had previously done without controversy. The school district’s investigation found Tjachyadi had not violated any of its policies. Tjachyadi confirmed these details to the Texas Observer but declined further comment. 

Nevertheless, Abbott made Tjachyadi out to be the prime example of why Texas needs to restrict transgender and gender-nonconforming people from serving as teachers—a talking point Abbott has linked to his push for school privatization.

“If you had a child in that classroom, would you want to be able to say, ‘Hey, wait a second. I’m not gonna send my child to that classroom’?” Abbott said. “Do you think you would have that right? You don’t in the State of Texas, because that right would mean that you would have school choice.”

A cartoon lawmaker standing behind a Lone Star podium tears a Progressive Pride flag in half.
A cartoon lawmaker standing behind a Lone Star podium tears a pride flag. (Drue Wagner for the Texas Observer)

After I originally reported Abbott’s comments at the gala on social media, several Republicans endorsed the governor’s call. “Perverts should not be teachers,” wrote Briscoe Cain, a GOP state representative from Deer Park, on X. In June, such a policy became part of the 2024 state GOP party platform: “We support the passage of legislation prohibiting school staff from engaging in sexualized drag activities, crossdressing, or transgenderism,” it reads.

These proposals come as Texas politicians are pushing back against a Biden administration effort to enhance Title IX civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ students. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his peers in other states are finding some success fighting this initiative in the courts

It’s unclear exactly how Texas GOP leaders might enact a ban on transgender and gender-nonconforming teachers. Abbott and the party did not respond to questions for this story. Public schools already have dress codes for teachers that require appropriate and undistracting attire, but the Observer could not identify any that address gender expression. 

One possible model is the transphobic dress code recently imposed at the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) that requires employees to dress “in a manner consistent with their biological gender.” Such a policy could violate a 2020 Supreme Court decision, which found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity. As of mid-June, the TDA dress code has gone unchallenged in court.

“I don’t believe there is a way to pass legislation on this issue that wouldn’t be blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional,” said Ash Hall, a strategist on LGBTQ+ Rights for the Texas ACLU. “They can try to pass legislation on this, but it would become a court battle pretty immediately, and I think it would go about as well for them as the drag ban has, which is to say, not well.”

What is clear is that some teachers’ lives would be upended should such legislation or policies be enacted. 

Danica Surman has been working as a middle social studies teacher in Galveston County for eight years. Now, she’s in the crosshairs of the state Republican Party. “I had an idea I was trans since I was in middle school, but I didn’t actually start transitioning until later life,” she told the Observer. “I didn’t actually come out at work until recently. This will be my second year as myself.”

Surman was dismayed to hear about Abbott’s comments. Regardless, she remains determined to be herself. “I’m not going to dress in a way that changes who I am,” she said. “Rather than causing me to change how I dress, because I can’t change who I am any more than Abbott can … it would cause me to have to look at leaving Texas.”

Surman doesn’t see her identity or gender expression as a distraction to her students. 

“I don’t think it’s very relevant for my job,” Surman said. “It helps to be empathetic to kids who might be dealing with feeling ostracized … but for the nuts and bolts of teaching, it really doesn’t have any relevance. I’m most interested in how do I get kids to care about history more, and how do I teach more effectively.”

Surman said her students generally perform above average and she hasn’t gotten a negative evaluation. “Trans teachers can be good teachers or bad teachers. They’re just teachers like anyone else.”

April Ortiz has been a math professor at a state university in Uvalde for 15 years. Her focus is preparing future primary school teachers. But now, she’s got other things to worry about.

“I came out as trans in March of 2023 through an article that I wrote for the Texas Observer,” Ortiz said. “Things have been okay for me locally. But, of course, I’m scared about what the state is possibly doing in the future.”

Ortiz is a highly involved member of her community. She used to write a column about math for a local newspaper. She helped start a program for kids to interact with professionals in the fields of math and science, and she’s active in her church. 

“I had a lot of concerns about coming out as trans,” Ortiz said. “It was something that I didn’t do lightly. I felt like I just needed to for my own survival.”

In the relatively conservative community of Uvalde, Ortiz has been pleasantly surprised by the reactions she’s received. “I’ve dealt with people seeming uncomfortable a little bit, but I have not gotten any hate outright,” Ortiz said. “I came out at work the same time I did publicly. I told my students: ‘This is a math class. There’s not much you really need to know about Dr. Ortiz, but I’m going to look different from now on. Here’s my name, here’s my pronouns, please respect them.’ And that was it. It brought home to me that this is not really a problem that the people have. It seems like a very artificial moral panic.”

Ortiz is not opposed to dress codes on principle. “Certainly a trans person could dress inappropriately,” Ortiz said. “But so could a cisgender person. Wearing a skirt is not a turn-on for me. It’s just my clothes.”

Even if the recent proposals by Abbott and the GOP never become law, the rhetoric has an impact, teachers say.

“A law doesn’t even have to be passed to have a stifling effect,” Surman said. “The proposal itself can make people afraid because they could be targeted or lose their job—which is fine if it’s about something you’re saying or doing, but it’s another thing when it’s about who you are.”

This article was originally published by the Texas Observer, a nonprofit investigative news outlet. Sign up for their weekly newsletter, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.”

Sotamayor Slams Supreme Court Immunity Ruling in Chilling Dissent

The three liberal Supreme Court justices, led by Sonia Sotomayor, warn democracy is at risk after the Supreme Court’s Trump presidential immunity case.

Third grade teacher Eran McGowan watches students demonstrate their answers to the class at the Eddie Bernice Johnson STEM Academy in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: Azul Sordo for The Texas Tribune

Democrats think they can flip Texas House seats by going after GOP’s education funding and school voucher policies

Democrats think they can flip Texas House seats by going after GOP’s education funding and school voucher policies” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Democrats are zeroing in on education issues in their bid to flip several state House districts this fall, as they look to blame GOP lawmakers for teacher shortages and school closures and mobilize their base around defeating Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature school voucher policy.

That approach came into focus last week at the Texas Democratic Convention in El Paso, where party leaders and House candidates repeatedly bashed Abbott’s push to provide taxpayer funds for private school tuition. They also acknowledged the governor’s recent success ousting members of his own party who oppose school vouchers, invoking it as a reason to focus on battleground House races this fall.

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin Democrat who is leading House Democrats’ campaign efforts, told delegates at the convention that Abbott’s crusade against voucher opponents in the primary has tipped the scales of the House narrowly toward passage of vouchers next year.

“To put it another way, we need to elect about three more Democrats to the Texas House to defeat vouchers and defend our neighborhood public schools,” she said.

Democrats and rural Republicans in the lower chamber have historically united against measures that would divert state funds to help families pay for private school. Critics say vouchers would siphon money away from public schools that are already facing widespread teacher shortages and budget deficits — a trend exacerbated by lawmakers’ failure last year to tap the state’s historic $33 billion budget surplus to boost school funding, after the effort got caught up in the voucher fight.

Most of the House battlefield this election cycle is centered in the Dallas and San Antonio suburbs and South Texas, across several districts with struggling schools where Democrats hope public education will resonate at the ballot box.

Among their top targets is GOP state Rep. John Lujan, who won his Bexar County district in 2022 by 4 percentage points — overcoming trends atop the ballot, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried the district by 2 points over Abbott.

Kristian Carranza, a progressive organizer and Lujan’s Democratic opponent, said when she meets voters on block-walks, “the No. 1 issue at the door is public education and the voucher fight.” She noted that the district — which covers south San Antonio and the eastern side of Bexar County — includes beleaguered districts like Harlandale ISD, which closed four elementary schools last fall amid a funding deficit.

“For people, this is a lived reality when we talk about private school vouchers,” said Carranza, who opposes the measure. “The way I talk about this is, the financial crisis schools are facing is due to massive budget deficits, and that’s the inevitable result of elected officials like John Luhan who have been choosing to toe the line with their party rather than stand up for their community.”

Abbott and his pro-voucher allies argue that parents deserve the option to remove their kids from the public education system, which has been attacked by conservatives over its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about how race, history and sex are taught in the classroom.

Republicans are already countering Democrats’ narrative, accusing the House voucher opponents of being responsible for the demise of a bill last fall that would have pumped billions into public schools. The bill died after a coalition of House Democrats and 21 Republicans removed vouchers from the package; the bill author then withdrew the entire measure, citing Abbott’s threat to veto education funding that did not include vouchers.

Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris said Democrats, by putting voucher opposition at the forefront of their campaigns, “are fighting for teacher unions and their self-serving agenda, instead of the Texans they claim to represent.”

“When it comes to education, parents matter, and families deserve the ability to choose the best education opportunities for their children,” Mahaleris said in a statement. “If Democrats want to make their opposition to parental empowerment a central theme of their campaign, good luck.”

Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said part of the strategy for Democrats “is to move the debate over public education back onto friendlier terrain” — toward school funding and away from things like curriculum.

In recent years, Blank said, Republicans have mobilized voters “based on the idea that, essentially, teachers weren’t to be trusted and the curriculum had gone off the rails,” allowing them to go on offense in an area typically dominated by Democrats.

“Traditionally, we think of public education as a Democratic issue, because most often if we’re talking about public education, we’re talking about spending, and … there’s almost no debate in which Democrats aren’t going to be more willing than Republicans to spend money on public education,” Blank said. “But if we’re talking about curriculum concerns and parental rights, that puts Democrats in a difficult position.”

Under the banner of protecting kids in public schools, Texas Republicans in recent years have passed laws aimed at keeping sexually explicit books out of school libraries and limiting how topics like race and racism can be taught in public schools. Conservatives have also extended the battle outside the classroom, passing a law restricting sexually explicit performances in front of minors and proposing a bill that targeted drag queen story hours — events typically held at public libraries and bookstores aimed at promoting literacy.

Over the last several days, Republicans including Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz have taken aim at Democrats for hosting a drag queen, Brigitte Bandit, at their convention. Bandit delivered a speech where she defended the practice of reading books to children at drag queen story hours and took aim at the Legislature’s move to ban transgender youth from taking puberty blockers and receiving hormone therapies.

“These are the same Texas Democrats who thought it was a good idea to parade a drag queen on stage to talk about indoctrinating impressionable children,” Mahaleris said, underscoring how Abbott has painted the public school system as a hotbed of liberal indoctrination in his push for school vouchers.

Carranza is not the only Democratic candidate shaping her campaign around public education and vouchers. In Dallas County, Democratic hopeful Averie Bishop is emphasizing her background as a substitute teacher in her bid to unseat state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson. Bishop also has pointed to the firsthand view she received of Texas’ flagging public schools as she traveled the state after winning the 2022 Miss Texas competition.

“I personally saw how severely underfunded and undersupported our schools are,” Bishop said at the Democratic convention. “School vouchers will pass if we do not flip my seat from red to blue.”

Democrats also see a newfound opportunity to pick up the San Antonio-area seat held by state Rep. Steve Allison — a moderate Republican who opposes school vouchers — after Allison was defeated in the March primary by conservative challenger Marc LaHood, a criminal defense attorney who backs vouchers.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said LaHood holds “extreme views” that are out of step with the district.

“Looking at the contrast between Steve Allison and Marc LaHood, and understanding and knowing the independent and educated voters in the [district’s] Alamo Heights area, there’s no doubt in my mind that our Democratic hopes just increased tenfold,” said Martinez Fischer, who chairs the Texas House Democratic Caucus.

Under its current configuration, the district would have been carried by former President Donald Trump by about 2 percentage points in 2020. Trump would have carried Button’s district by half a point the same year.

LaHood, asked about Martinez Fischer’s comment, said in a statement that “parental choice isn’t a partisan issue.”

“Parents want and deserve to have more options in selecting the best educational environment for their individual children,” LaHood said. “Democrats are in for a rude awakening if they want to make disempowering parents their hill to die on. I welcome the conversation and the fight.”

Just in: Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming; U.S. Sen. Jon Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania; and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt will take the stage at The Texas Tribune Festival, Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Buy tickets today!

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/06/13/texas-democrats-house-election-vouchers-public-education/.

Numbers via things like population changes, increasing diversity, vote outcomes, these all give a sense of where things are heading.

Attendees at the Texas GOP Convention in San Antonio on May 24, 2024. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

At Texas GOP convention, Republicans call for spiritual warfare

At Texas GOP convention, Republicans call for spiritual warfare” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

SAN ANTONIO — From his booth in the exhibit hall of the Texas GOP’s 2024 convention, Steve Hotze saw an army of God assembled before him.

For four decades, Hotze, an indicted election fraud conspiracy theorist, has helmed hardline anti-abortion movements and virulently homophobic campaigns against LGBTQ+ rights, comparing gay people to Nazis and helping popularize the “groomer” slur that paints them as pedophiles. Once on the fringes, Hotze said Saturday that he was pleased by the party’s growing embrace of his calls for spiritual warfare with “demonic, Satanic forces” on the left.

From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023.
From left: Conservative activists Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill enter the Senate gallery during the afternoon session of Day 1 of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial in the Texas Senate on Sept. 5, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

“People that aren’t in Christ have wicked, evil hearts,” he said. “We are in a battle, and you have to take a side.”

Those beliefs were common at the party’s three-day biennial convention last week, at which delegates adopted a series of new policies that would give the party unprecedented control over the electoral process and further infuse Christianity into public life.

Delegates approved rules that ban Republican candidates — as well as judges — who are censured by the party from appearing on primary ballots for two years, a move that would give a small group of Republicans the ability to block people from running for office, should it survive expected legal challenges. The party’s proposed platform also included planks that would effectively lock Democrats out of statewide office by requiring candidates to win a majority of Texas’ 254 counties, many of which are dark-red but sparsely populated, and called for laws requiring the Bible to be taught in public schools.

Those moves, delegates and leaders agreed, were necessary amid what they say is an existential fight with a host of perceived enemies, be it liberals trying to indoctrinate their children through “gender ideology” and Critical Race Theory, or globalists waging a war on Christianity through migration.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

Those fears were stoked by elected officials in almost every speech given over the week. “They want to take God out of the country, and they want the government to be God,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Thursday morning.

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood,” Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, said Friday. “It is against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

”Look at what the Democrats have done,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Saturday. “If you were actively trying to destroy America, what would you do differently?”

[“The house is on fire”: Texas GOP plots its next chapter amid civil war, depleted staff, funding drops]

Controlling elections

The Texas GOP’s conventions have traditionally amplified the party’s most hardline activists and views. In 2022, for instance, delegates approved a platform that included calls for a referendum on Texas secession; resistance to the “Great Reset,” a conspiracy theory that claims global elites are using environmental and social policies to enslave the world’s population; proclamations that homosexuality is an “abnormal lifestyle choice”; and a declaration that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

The 2024 convention went a step further.

It was the first Texas GOP convention set against the backdrop of a civil war that was sparked by the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and inflamed by scandals over white supremacists and antisemites working for the party’s top funders, West Texas oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. This year’s convention was also sparsely attended compared to past years, which some longtime party members said helped the Dunn and Wilks faction further consolidate their power and elect their candidate, Abraham George, for party chair.

“What we’re seeing right now is a shift toward more populism,” said Summer Wise, a former member of the party’s executive committee who has attended most conventions since 2008, including last week’s. “And the [party’s] infrastructure, leadership, decision-making process, power and influence are being controlled by a small group of people.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife Senator Angela Paxton wave to conventioneers during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, wave to attendees during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

That shift was most evident, she said, in a series of changes to the party’s rules that further empower its leaders to punish dissent. The party approved changes that would dramatically increase the consequences of censures — which were used most recently to punish House Speaker Dade Phelan for his role in impeaching Paxton, and against U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales for voting for gun safety legislation.

Under the changes, any person who is censured by the party would be banned for two years from appearing on GOP primary ballots — including judges, who are elected in partisan races but expected to be politically neutral once on the bench. The party also voted to unilaterally close its primaries, bypassing the Legislature, in a move intended to keep Democrats from voting in Republican primaries.

“It’s pretty hypocritical,” Wise said of the changes, which legal experts and some party members expect will face legal challenges. “Republicans have always opposed activist judges, and this seems to be obligating judges to observe and prioritize party over law — which is straight-up judicial activism.”

The convention came amid a broader embrace of Christian nationalism on the right, which falsely claims that the United States’ founding was God-ordained and that its institutions and laws should reflect their conservative, Christian views. Experts have found strong correlations between Christian nationalist beliefs and opposition to migration, religious pluralism and the democratic process.

[Proposed Texas GOP platform calls for the Bible in schools, electoral changes that would lock Democrats out of statewide office]

Wise said she has seen parts of the party similarly shift toward dogmatic political and religious views that have been used “to justify or rationalize corrupting the institution and stripping away its integrity, traditions, fundamental and established principles” — as if “‘God wants it, so we can rewrite the rules.’”

“Being Republican and being Christian have become the same thing,” she said. “If you’re accused of being a (Republican in Name Only), you’re essentially not as Christian as someone else. … God help you if you’re Jewish.”

The “rabbit hole”

Bob Harvey is a proud member of the “Grumpy Old Men’s Club,” a group in Montgomery County that he said pushes back against Fox News and other outlets that he claims have been infiltrated by RINOs.

“People trust Fox News, and they need to get outside of that and find alternative news and like-minded people,” Harvey, 71, said on Friday, as he waited in a long line to meet Kyle Rittenhouse, who has ramped up his engagement in Texas politics since he was acquitted of homicide after fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters.

Rather, Harvey’s group recommends places such as the Gateway Pundit, Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News or the Epoch Times, a far-right website that also had a booth at this year’s convention and is directly linked to the Falun Gong, a hardline anti-communist group.

Such outlets, Harvey said, are crucial to getting people “further down the rabbit hole,” after which they can begin to connect the dots between the deep-state that has spent years attacking former President Donald Trump, and the agenda of the left to indoctrinate kids through the Boy Scouts of America, public schools and the Democratic Party.

Harvey’s views were widely-held by his fellow delegates, many of whom were certain that broader transgender acceptance, Critical Race Theory or “diversity, equity and inclusion” initiatives were parts of a sinister plot to destroy the country and take over its churches.

The culprits behind the ploy differed — Democrats, socialists or “globalists,” to name a few. But their nefarious end goals loomed over the convention. Fearing a transgender takeover of the Republican Party of Texas, delegates pushed to explicitly stipulate that the party’s chair and vice chair must be “biological” men or women.

At events to recruit pastors and congregations to ramp up their political activism, elected leaders argued that churches were the only thing standing between evil and children. And the party’s proposed platform included planks that claim gender-transition care is child abuse, or urge new legislation in Texas that’s “even more comprehensive” than Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Kyle Rittenhouse shakes hands with conventioneers at a meet and greet during the Texas GOP convention on Thursday in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

“Our next generation is being co-opted and indoctrinated where they should have been educated,” Rep. Nate Schatzline, R-Fort Worth, said at a Friday luncheon for pastors and churches. “We are in a spiritual battle. This isn’t a political one.”

For at least a half-century, conservative Christian movements have been fueled by notions of a shadowy and coordinated conspiracy to destroy America, said Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University who focuses on movements to put the Bible in public schools.

“It’s like the boogeyman that won’t go away, that gets summoned whenever a justification is needed for these types of agendas,” he said. “They say that somebody is threatening quintessential American freedoms, and that these threats are posed by some sort of global conspiracy — rather than just recognizing that we’re a pluralistic democracy.”

In the 1950s, such claims were the driving force behind the emergence of groups such as the John Birch Society, a hardline anti-communist group whose early members included the fathers of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Trump. After decades of dwindling influence, the society has seen a revival since Trump’s 2016 election. And in the exhibit hall last week, so-called Birchers passed out literature and pamphlets that detailed the New World Order’s secret plans for “world domination.”

Steve Oglesby, field director for the Birch Society’s North Texas chapter, said interest and membership in the group has been on the rise in recent years — particularly, as COVID-19 lockdowns and international climate change initiatives have spurred right-wing fears of an international cabal working against the United States.

“COVID really helped,” he said, adding that the pandemic proved the existence of a global elite that has merely shifted its tactics since the 1950s. “It’s not just communism — it’s the people pulling the strings.”

Throughout the week, prominent Republicans invoked similar claims of a coordinated conspiracy against the United States. On Friday, Patrick argued that a decadeslong decline in American religion was part of a broader, “Marxist socialist left” agenda to “create chaos,” including through migration — despite studies showing that migrants are overwhelmingly Christian. Attorney General Ken Paxton echoed those claims in his own speech minutes later, saying migration was part of a plan to “steal another election.”

“The Biden Administration wants the illegals here to vote,” he said.

Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaks during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest watch as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during the Republican Party of Texas convention in San Antonio on Thursday, the first day of the gathering. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

As Paxton continued, Ella Maulding and Konner Earnest held hands and nodded their approval from the convention hall’s front row. Last year, the two were spotted outside of a Tarrant County office building where Nick Fuentes, a prominent white nationalist and Adolf Hitler fan, was hosted for nearly seven hours by Jonathan Stickland, then the leader of Dunn and Wilks’ most powerful political action committee. They eventually lost their jobs after The Texas Tribune reported on their ties to Fuentes or white nationalist groups.

Maulding has been particularly vocal about her support for Great Replacement Theory, a conspiracy theory that claims there is an intentional, often Jewish-driven, effort to replace white people through migration, LGBTQ+ acceptance or interracial marriage. Once a fringe, white nationalist worldview, experts say that Great Replacement Theory has been increasingly mainstreamed as Republican leaders, including some who spoke last week, continue to claim that migration is part of a coordinated effort to aid Democrats. The theory has also been cited by numerous mass shooters, including the gunman who murdered 22 Hispanic people at an El Paso WalMart in 2019.

Five hours after Paxton and Patrick spoke, Maulding took to social media, posting a cartoon of a rabbi with the following text: “I make porn using your children and then make money distributing it under the banner of women’s rights while flooding your nation with demented lunatics who then rape your children.”

David Barton

Kason Huddleston has spent the last few years helping elect Christians and push back against what he believes is indoctrination of children in Rowlett, near Dallas. Far too often, he said, churches and pastors have become complacent, or have been scared away from political engagement by federal rules that prohibit churches from overt political activity.

Through trainings from groups like Christians Engaged, which advocates for church political activity and had a booth at this year’s convention, he said he has been able show more local Christians that they can be “a part of the solution” to intractable societal ills such as fatherlessness, crime or teen drug use. And while he thinks that some of his peers’ existential rhetoric can be overwrought, he agreed that there is an ongoing effort to “tear down the family unit” and shroud America’s true, Christian roots.

“If you look at our government and our laws, all of it goes back to a Judeo-Christian basis,” he said. “Most people don’t know our true history because it’s slowly just been removed.”

He then asked: “Have you ever read David Barton?”

Since the late 1980s, Barton has barnstormed the state and country claiming that church-state separation is a “myth” meant to shroud America’s true founding as a Christian nation. Barton, a self-styled “amateur historian” who served as Texas GOP vice chair from 1997 to 2006, has been thoroughly debunked by an array of historians and scholars — many of them also conservative Christians.

David Barton, left, of WallBuilders talks with a delegate as he poses for photos at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Texas Republican Convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012.
David Barton, left, of WallBuilders, at a Texas Eagle Forum reception at the Republican Party of Texas convention in Fort Worth on June 7, 2012. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Despite that, Barton’s views have become widespread among Republicans, including Patrick, Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine and U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson. And his influence over the party was clear at last week’s convention, where his group, WallBuilders, maintained a booth and delegates frequently cited him.

This year’s platform, the votes for which are expected to be released later this week, included planks that urged lawmakers and the State Board of Education to “require instruction on the Bible, servant leadership and Christian self-governance,” and supports the use of religious chaplains in schools — which was made legal under a law passed by the state Legislature last year.

Warren Throckmorton, a former Grove City College professor and prominent conservative, Christian critic of Barton, told the Tribune that the platform emblematized Barton’s growing influence, and his movement’s conflicting calls to preserve “religious liberty” while attempting to elevate their faith over others. The platform, he noted, simultaneously demands that students’ religious rights be protected, and for schools to be forced to teach the Bible.

“What about the other students who aren’t Christians and who don’t believe in the Bible?” he said. “This is not religious liberty — it’s Christian dominance.

As Zach Maxwell watched his fellow Republicans debate and vote last week, he said he was struck by the frequency and intensity with which Christianity was invoked. Maxwell previously served as chief of staff for former Rep. Mike Lang, then the leader of the ultraconservative Texas House Freedom Caucus, and he later worked for Empower Texans, a political group that was funded primarily by Dunn and Wilks.

He eventually became disillusioned with the party’s right wing, which he said has increasingly been driven by purity tests and opposition to religious or political diversity. This year’s convention, he said, was the culmination of those trends.

“God was not only used as a tool at this convention, but if you didn’t mention God in some way, fake or genuine, I did feel it was seen as distasteful,” he said. “There is a growing group of people who want to turn this nation into a straight-up theocracy. I believe they are doing it on the backs of people who are easily manipulated.”

Disclosure: Southern Methodist University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Nancy Leclerc poses for a photo in front of a GOP elephant statue during the Texas GOP Convention Thursday, May 23, 2024 in San Antonio.
Nancy Leclerc poses for a photo in front of a GOP elephant statue during the Texas GOP convention in San Antonio on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/28/texas-gop-convention-elections-religion-delegates-platform/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump has been found guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, a historic verdict as Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, campaigns again for the White House.

This is the first time a former or sitting U.S. president has been convicted of criminal charges.

On Thursday, 12 New York jurors said they unanimously agreed that Trump falsified business records to conceal a $130,000 hush money payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to influence the 2016 contest.

The decision came after about a day and a half of deliberations. As the verdicts were read, Trump remained silent and still.

Former President Trump is found guilty in historic New York criminal case. Read the entire story HERE.

Texas Supreme Court rejects challenge to abortion laws

Amanda Zurawski, middle, addresses the press following the first day of testimony for Zurawski v. State of Texas outside the Travis County Civil and Family Courts Facility in Austin on July 19, 2023 Credit: Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune

Texas Supreme Court rejects challenge to abortion laws