Time to double-down on growth
Would absolutely read a slow boring series on how to Yglesify every state in the union
I grew up in Texas during the bipartisan years, and the descent of the state's political leadership into a bunch of cookie-cutter Fox News Republicans makes me really sad. It's also kind of emblematic of the intellectual rot in the GOP. It also weakens both the state and that party. Here's a few scattershot thoughts:
1) Recall that George W. was successor (as governor) to a Democrat, Ann Richards. He had to work with a Democratically controlled legislature. All of that was because the replacement of the Dixiecrats with Republicans and the general Southern shift of the GOP was still in-progress; it took longer in Texas because that state has different dynamics than the pure Old South. As a result, you had period of genuine bipartisan governance in Texas. My hope is that the gradual blue shift of the state might deliver another such period.
2) The bipartisan period owed a lot to the fact that Texas used to have a much stronger libertarian streak in its politics. The government just did less stuff. That could be for ill--hello, pollution--but it could also be for good, in the sense that the current GOP mania for highly intrusive government, i.e. the anti-CRT, anti-mask kind of BS, was checked. As part of both the libertarian and bipartisan stuff, Texas politics had a strong "good governance" streak. Again, this was often in the service of preventing the government from doing stuff, and the state has usually lagged on services. But it also led to things like a solid rainy day fund and a preference for competence over partisan performance in politicians.
3) Under appreciated: the emphasis on low state government control left a lot of space for individual Texas cities and counties to be their own thing. This could be really, really bad: Dallas was essentially a Klan stronghold for big parts of the 20th C.; small Texas towns could be scary racist and corrupt. I once delivered a lawsuit against the sheriff in a small county where we had family (I was a courier and file clerk as my undergrad side job). My dad told me not to mention our name unless asked directly, and that if a cop car tried to pull me over in the county, I should not stop until I got to a public parking lot across the county line. And he was right. Before I could deliver the papers, I had to get them notarized in the county clerk's office. By the time I drove over to the sheriff's office, all the deputies were hanging out in the lobby. The clerk had called ahead. Happily, they just wanted to gawk.
BUT...the lack of central control also left tons of space for liberal places to do their own thing, too. This is how Austin became "Austin." Less well-known, Houston had a surprisingly liberal / cosmopolitan streak, in part because the oil and shipping industries demanded a certain level of it--if you wanted that sweet, sweet Saudi crude, you couldn't ask a sheik to come in the back door and use the crappy water fountain. (One customer at my law firm was literally the Sheik of Qatar, who, hilariously, owned some condos in Houston because that's a good way to park money out of country.) Houston passed ordinances protecting employment for gay people in the '80s, UNDER REAGAN. It wasn't a liberal place, precisely, but it was also not what you think of as a conservative paradise.
4) To see the changes of the 21st C., consider the progression of governors:
George W. Bush was a fairly bipartisan and benign governor. Texas was relatively open and welcoming to immigrants. The state was focused on education. The Bush crew's approach to that problem, including an emphasis on standardized testing, has not aged well, but it was a genuine attempt at improvement, and at the time it was believed to be delivering results. Again: they were likely "wrong," but not in a way that was obvious at the time, and the effort of folks like Karen Hughes was pretty clearly genuine. Bush goes to the Presidency on a campaign of "compassionate conservatism." He spearheads a global AIDS initiative, PEPFAR. I'm a global health person. I think Iraq and Afghanistan ended up being stupid disasters. But PEPFAR has saved, no hyperbole here, millions of people's lives in the developing world, and it is very idiosyncratically a Bush program. It would probably not have happened otherwise.
(Also, no one cares about it because of all the other disasters, which: fair. They were disasters. And a lot of the Bushies, starting with Cheney, were straight-up villains and clowns.)
Bush is replaced by Rick Perry. Perry is more GOP-ish. He is also demonstrably more corrupt; despite never having held a job other than as a politician and coming from poverty, he eventually leaves office as a millionaire thanks to his side hustle as a land speculator that just "happens" to deliver absurdly lucrative profits on deals cut in the Austin area. He oversees a GOP-controlled legislature best remembered for the antics of Tom DeLay, who makes a play to do an off-year gerrymander of the state to buttress GOP power in Congress. DeLay eventually goes to jail. BUT...Perry does remain open to immigration. He initially continues on the some of the "compassionate conservative" stuff. This eventually blows his chance at becoming the GOP presidential nominee (it hurt that he was kind of dumb--"oops"--but his immigration openness had already killed his chances at that point).
Perry is replaced by Greg Abbott. You know Greg Abbott from Fox News. The legislature is busy passaging messaging bills. The state power grid has collapsed multiple times. Abbott called on the legislature to pass messaging bills. Abbott's AG (elected separately, but still), is under Federal investigation, and he's only the tip of the corruption iceberg. That's okay, though, because the legislature is going to do some anti-abortion stuff. Abbott is going to build the wall. HE'S GOING TO FUND IT WITH THAT RAINY DAY FUND I MENTIONED. Also, the state now has incredibly high Covid numbers, and the health system is beyond capacity and edging towards collapse. Abbott's response: special legislative session to do some voter restrictions. Oh, and executive orders against mask mandates that even the state's GOP-controlled Supreme Court can't get totally behind.
Basically, the party has descended into a corrupt clown show. It's really depressing. It's one of the major reasons why I have never, not even once, thought that it would be good to move back to Texas. I love my old state, but at this point seeing what is going on there just makes me sad. (And it's hard for me not to assume that, despite its many natural advantages, enough corruption is eventually going to kill the golden goose.)
The biggest advantage of that rail map is that, by making College Station a major hub, it will appeal to all the Aggie alums who are a vital state constituency. On the other hand, by skipping Waco it will terribly upset all the Baylor alums who are another major constituency among state government. If it ever got to a floor debate in the Texas House that debate would be possibly the most vicious in the state’s history.
I'm surprised you didn't mention Texas Central Railroad, which is building the Houston to Dallas leg of your proposed map essentially according to your design philosophy: owned by a private company using Japanese technology and a European operator.
They're a little behind schedule but look much more promising than other American regional rail projects. Joe Biden endorsed it while VP, the Trump administration paid lip service to it, and hey, we're hopefully about to get a big infrastructure bill passed! I'm hoping it works well and the model is extended to Austin (where I live and is currently planning a major light rail expansion) and San Antonio.
I know you're really big on fast grants*, but it's not the best way to fund science. I suspect the flaw in your thinking is the idea that scientists are sitting around with great ideas and then have to fight through a bureaucratic nightmare to get it funded years later, after which they can execute their still-great ideas. But what really happens is we have half-formed notions of what we want to do that the grant writing forces us to sharpen and flesh out. So though it's long and sometimes frustrating, the NIH grant review process has consistently made my science better - more rigorous and more impactful.
*I submitted for one in the first week and didn't get it. As expected, when the science review is not rigorous, reviewers tend to fall back on other metrics, like if the applicant is at Harvard or Stanford (I say with a bit of envy). I can assure you, the big labs were not hurting for money anyway.
I know little about Texas, but my cliche image of the state suggests that they should be fully onboard (pun intended) for a >200 mph train as described here. Beyond the beneficial economic effects, super fast bullet trains would just be a great look and -- best of all -- man, the bragging rights they would have over my California and its disaster of an HSR.
Can we get the high speed rail line from Austin to College Station working by the time UT joins the SEC? That would make an interesting ride on Thanksgiving (or the day after) when the two schools start playing again.
I love red state FanFic
The Welch Foundation (https://www.welch1.org/grants-programs/research-grants) already gives $80,000 annual grants to chemistry professors located in the state of Texas - basically half of the departments at UT, A&M, and Rice have them, and these grants are used as a recruiting tool by the universities (because it's basically free money that you can't get if you take a job in Seattle or Chicago or Boston). Having a more general Texas-only grant, open to fields outside of chemistry, would be a similarly big recruiting tool.
That language about "not in Austin, Houston, or Dallas" seems like something the College Station (and Waco and Lubbock) legislators could get behind. While there would probably be a few people at UTEP and UTRGV and maybe Texas Christian University that would be able to get these grants, it would basically all go to A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor faculty.
That, and the dream of Making College Station a Station Again makes this sound like the ideal platform for someone wanting to be the next Rick Perry (first Aggie governor).
While we're on the dreaming, can we get the Union Pacific track connecting College Station and Bryan to run a local light rail, and rezone all the empty industrial land along Finfeather Road to allow massive car-free student housing?
Texas Central Railroad out here like "we exist"
The Department of Energy Office of Science has a similar budget to the NSF ($7 billion vs. $8.2 billion in 2020) and funds a similar amount of research. When this is overlooked, we end up with things like senators claiming the DOE doesn't do any science or need any more funding during the committee debate on the Endless Frontier act.
Tennessee hasn’t expanded Medicaid! Back in the late 90s/early 00s there was a big managed care experiment here that expanded subsidized healthcare, but the Dem governor cut the rolls substantially in the early 00s. The legislature flipped around 2006, so there wasn’t support for ACA Medicaid expansion. The previous governor, Bill Haslam, was supportive of expansion under a weird subsidy plan but it never got enough legislative support to pass, and the current governor is opposed to expansion. Unlike a number of other R states, Tennessee doesn’t have strong voter initiatives, so Medicaid is unlikely to be expanded anytime soon.
>>Then Elena Kagan and John Roberts seem to have made a weird deal whereby Roberts would join the liberal justices in upholding the ACA individual mandate if Kagan would join the conservatives in ruling that Medicaid expansion couldn’t be mandatory.
I appreciate the efforts to emphasize the politics of judicial decisionmaking, but this is overly conspiratorial. First of all, Roberts already had the votes, so he didn't need Kagan to do anything. Second, the seven justice majority on the issue (Breyer joined as well) was pretty well justified on the merits. Withholding *all* Medicaid funds if states didn't adopt the proposed expansion is, in fact, a pretty coercive exercise of the spending power. You could argue the other side as well, but the outcome can be understood easily without resorting to realpolitik.
As to the meat of the article, this all sounds great, but I'm left wondering why a Republican would want to do these things. All the states that have adopted independent redistricting commissions are blue or trending-blue (Arizona may be the closest to Texas), or are those weird-western-small-states that love being ahead of the curve on women's suffrage and fair elections. Republicans don't like independent redistricting because they love kicking ass in elections, and a wonky argument about Beto O'Rourke's performance in the 2018 midterms in state house districts doesn't really persuade. Republicans still won the state house, and the lesson might instead be that even with major demographic shifts over eight years and historic Democratic turnout, the gerrymander was solid enough to *still* win.
And as to zoning and high-speed rail, this assumes that it's to Republicans political advantage to make these better places to live. The preemption laws are usually about totally symbolic stuff or businessman red-meat that is much more viscerally "pro-business" (e.g., low minimum wage) than they are about actual governance. And as much as that sucks for good governance, I don't see a Republican candidate getting very far with his proposal to make liberal, cosmopolitan cities more liberal and cosmopolitan while also making them more affordable, nicer places to live. Conservatives beating up on Austin is a classic trope in Texas politics, and it's good for Republicans politically if Austin continues to have high homelessness and shitty traffic.
I think this is a good agenda for a moderate Democrat who wants to run statewide, but I don't see a contemporary Republican going anywhere with this.
No plan on how to make the Cowboys great again?
I think we need companion pieces for NY, CA, and FL
I am disappointed that your tax recommendations did not include adopting/encouraging municipalities to adopt a land value tax.
The land! The land! 'Twas God who made the land!
The land! The land! The ground on which we stand!
Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?
God gave the land to the people!