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Wendy Davis needs to push back on Texas’ refusal to comply with the law on military same-sex benefits

The sooner the better. This is a no-brainer, and a win all around.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Texas Gov. Rick Perry stood his ground [last] Friday in a showdown with the Pentagon over processing benefits for same-sex couples at National Guard offices, possibly setting the stage for yet another court battle with the federal government.

A spokesman for the governor insisted that the Texas National Guard would not process marriage certificates for same-sex couples, despite an order this week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to do so.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, met Friday via teleconference with the leaders of nine state Guard organizations that have refused to process paperwork for same-sex benefits. Officials in Texas and Washington weren’t disclosing their next moves, but neither side appeared to budge.

“I guess I couldn’t be surprised that someone from the Obama administration is trying to force their will onto the states and bypass the state’s constitutional authority to govern itself,” Perry spokesman Josh Havens said, adding the governor had “every intent to uphold the Texas Constitution and state law.”


The Texas Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, was among leaders from the nine states to talk with Grass. But Army Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Guard, said she did not know the outcome of their conference.

She stressed that no one in the 22,000-strong organization had been denied benefits. However, Guard personnel on five state-operated facilities are barred from uploading a copy of the same-sex marriage certificate into a computer database, a key step required for issuing benefits as health care or housing allowances. The Texas Family Code forbids the acceptance of same-sex marriage certificates on state facilities.

Let’s go over the reasons why Wendy Davis needs to make an issue of this, shall we?

1. First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. That’s not always good politics, though in this case I believe it clearly is. But doing the right thing, and fighting for the right thing, is the way to build trust with your base supporters for those times when you need to convince them that something they’re not so crazy about is also the right thing to do.

2. Perry’s typical macho preening on this tries to cast the issue as another state-versus-federal argument, but it very conspicuously omits any mention of the active duty military members and their families that are directly affected by it. Making this be about the military personnel and their families is Politics 101. Rick Perry is saying that the state of Texas has the right to deny active duty military members access to federal benefits that they have earned. Do you think he wants to talk about it in those terms? We can’t let him go on as if it were just another abstract debate about federalism. He’s hurting soldiers, he’s disrespecting the people that we’ve tasked with protecting our freedoms. If we let him get away with that, we deserve to lose. The one person in Texas that can change the dynamic of this conversation in a way that the media and other politicians will be forced to notice, is Wendy Davis.

3. Of course, Wendy Davis is running against Greg Abbott, not Rick Perry. But taking on this fight puts Abbott in a tight spot. For one thing, he doesn’t want to make this about actual people – soldiers and their families – any more than Perry does. But he also can’t let himself be seen as soft on gay rights or fighting against the federal government, since he’s built most of his identity on that and he got burned by siding with the Obama Justice Department against the American Airlines merger. So that puts him in the position of having to defend the denial of benefits to soldiers, which I know is going to make a lot of nominal Republicans – likely a lot of Republican women, since this fight will adversely affect children, too – uncomfortable. And let’s not forget, Abbott the incumbent Attorney General still has to offer an opinion on this. Anything that Abbott the candidate for Governor has to say will cast doubt on that opinion he has to render.

4. It shifts the conversation away from abortion. That’s turf Davis will need and want to defend, but this is a chance to go on the offensive. it will also reinforce the idea that Davis has been a fighter on a range of subjects and that she isn’t afraid to take it to the Republicans.

5. As Daily Kos and Americablog point out, while the National Guard is generally considered part of the state, it gets the vast majority of its funding from the federal government. Are Rick Perry and Greg Abbott willing to forego that in the name of maintaining state control?

6. On a broader and more philosophical note, it also pushes back on the deeply cynical “states rights” and “federal overreach” argument that Perry and Abbott and the rest of them love to make. It’s a reminder that the federal government is there to ensure that people in all 50 states have the same rights and freedoms.

7. Have I mentioned that this is just 100% the right thing to do? I can’t stress that enough.

Now obviously it can’t be just Wendy Davis making this argument. Every Democrat in the state needs to be making it as well. But as noted in point #2, Wendy Davis is the only Democrat that’s guaranteed to be noticed by the press when she makes it. She’s the leader of the party, she’s the one in the spotlight, she’s where this has to start. We need you on this, Wendy.

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  1. “It can’t be just Wendy Davis making this argument.” K.D.F.

  2. Tom Moran says:

    Yes, the National Guard is the biggest part of the state militia. But Article I, section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to organize, arm and discipline the militia. It also reserves to the states the right to appoint militia officers and to train the militia “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” And, oh, yes, the Second Amendment starts out, “A well regulated militia….”
    Congress has the right to organize the National Guard, including the power to set compensation and benefits for members. Benefits, like deciding who can get ID cards and have access to things like medical care, exchanges and commisaries.
    It’s federal business who gets benefits based on membership in the National Guard, not the states’.

  3. Ross says:

    But, the Federal government cannot force a state employee to perform a Federal function. That’s the crux of the matter here. I think the Feds ought to just withdraw the funding for all Guard activities in Texas, and see what Perry et al have to say. And, while they are at it, do what LBJ would have done. Close Ft. Hood and tell Perry there’s a political price to pay for his beliefs.