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May 20th, 2014:

A letter to Ed Young

Found on Facebook, from an alumnus of Second Baptist School to Pastor Ed Young, reprinted in full because you need to see it.

Ed Young

MY LETTER TO THE SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION:

Thank you again for featuring me in the Eagle magazine recently. It was an honor to be included.

A friend of mine forwarded the below email from Dr. Young. My understanding is that the letter was sent to the membership of the church. While the letter’s message does not surprise me, it deeply disappoints me.

I loved my time at Second Baptist School. I was a part of your community from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I was class president, yearbook editor, drama club president, and actively gave my time and talents to my school. I am still in touch with many of my fellow alumni and several wonderful teachers. While I have numerous great memories of SBS, Dr. Young’s letter is a shining example of why I have been unable to support the school monetarily. There are many positive values taught at SBS, but it seems in the 28 years since my graduation, there has been no progress in Dr. Young’s hurtful teachings about gay and lesbian people.

The equality ordinance under consideration by the Houston City Council is more reflective of the teachings of Christ than the misleading and politicized letter from Dr. Young to the church’s members. The ordinance is designed to protect Houstonians from discrimination that would affect their livelihood and ability to have a roof over their heads. I was fired from my first job out of college, simply because the conservative Christian president of the company found out that I was a gay man. For Second Baptist to take a strong stand in favor of this kind of discrimination seems profoundly out of line with the teachings of Jesus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not reflected in denying people employment.

To say Americans have a right to refuse service to people who are gay also feels highly out of line with the teachings of Christ. Does Dr. Young feel the same about American’s rights to refuse service to people of a different ethnicity? Would he write a letter encouraging policy that would allow business owners to refuse service to someone of a different faith? Of course not. This is specifically about the demonization of LGBT people.

To imply that this ordinance is designed to legalize the actions of sexual predators might be politically effective, however, it’s not true. Predatory behavior and sexual assault will still be quite illegal in Houston. I have to assume Dr. Young is smart enough to know that and was willing to dial up the rhetoric to accomplish his goal.

Most of all, I am concerned for the young gay and lesbian people who are in the care of Second Baptist, both the school and the church. This aggressive political agenda from Dr. Young only serves to teach them that they are less than worthy in the eyes of their community, and it encourages their families to alienate their own children, based on misinformation and fear. The suicide rate of gay youth, often from religious families, is still far too high for caring Christians to remain silent.

I do not write this letter out of spite; I genuinely care about the school where I spent 13 years of my life. I encourage Dr. Young, Second Baptist School and Second Baptist Church to be less concerned with “daring to be Daniel” and more concerned with immolating Christ. When the school reflects these values, I will be more than happy to become an avid donor.

Best Regards,
Kyle Young
Class of 1986

Bravo, Kyle Young. I can only wonder what Ed Young (I presume there’s no relation) would say to you if he had the guts to say to your face what he’s been saying to others.

The Senate is likely to get stupider again

The cause.

Sen. Robert Duncan

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents officially named state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the sole finalist to be the system’s next chancellor in a press release issued Monday afternoon.

Duncan is expected to start in his new position on July 1. A special election will have to be held to replace him, and at least one candidate — state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock — has already announced an intention to run.

“To be able to serve the great universities in the Texas Tech University System is a tremendous honor for me and my family,” Duncan said in a statement. “I love the people of West Texas and will devote all of my energy to continue to grow the reputations for excellence of all the universities in the system.”

Mickey Long, the chairman of the Texas Tech board, expressed delight that, though the regents undertook a national search for the replacement for outgoing chancellor Kent Hance, they ended up with a new chancellor with strong personal ties to the region and to Texas Tech University.

The effect.

If current trends hold, [Duncan] may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

You don’t have to buy Mark Jones’ ideology-identifying methodology to recognize that Sen. Duncan is in the increasingly smaller “let’s get something done” bucket on the Republican side of the Senate. We already know what we’re getting from some of the replacement Republican Senators, and the possible additions of Deuell’s completely unhinged challenger – who would be elected, it must be noted, by equally unhinged voters – and teabagger Rep. Charles Perry if he wins the future special election in SD28 – will only serve to make it worse. Duncan had long been expected to be the next head of Texas Tech and I will wish him well in his new job, but his good fortune will not be good for the rest of us.

We could have better transportation infrastructure if we wanted it

House Speaker Joe Straus embraces the end-the-diversions approach to transportation funding.

BagOfMoney

Texas’ booming economy and massive transportation needs are inching the state toward simplifying highway spending, officials say.

The latest move to end so-called diversions from the State Highway Fund came Wednesday, when Speaker Joe Straus said the next Texas budget proposed by the House will dedicate all the money from the fund to transportation.

“This approach will make the state budget even more straightforward, just as taxpayers expect,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said in a news release. “It will also provide needed transportation revenue – without a tax increase.”

The highway fund, amassed from state gasoline tax revenues and fees for services like driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations, goes mostly to the Texas Department of Transportation. Some of the money, however, goes to law enforcement or other uses.

Shifting all the money to transportation would give TxDOT an additional $1.3 billion, Straus’ office said. Other money would be found for the budgets affected, Straus said, although he did not specify a source.

EoW is also on this. Let’s be clear about two things. One is that this doesn’t actually solve the problem of insufficient funding for transportation in Texas. It helps, sure, but it’s not enough. There’s still a gap, which includes paying off a ton of bond debt, and closing that gap involves the same choices that the Lege has studiously avoided making so far. And two, the impression I have always gotten is that the way that “other money would be found” would be by cutting it from other parts of the budget. You don’t think they’d increase spending by $1.3 billion and not offset it somewhere else, do you? We’re likely to have a big enough surplus this biennium to reduce the appetite for that kind of mindless cutting, but there’s also going to be a lot of pressure for mindless tax cutting, and you can imagine what will be more popular. So if this isn’t a stealth budget cut, and if it isn’t a declaration of victory for transportation spending, then it’s OK. If not, we’re being sold a bill of goods.

Meanwhile, the federal government has its own funding problems for transportation.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday tried to turn up the election-year heat on Republicans by demanding fast-track congressional action to finance multi-year bridge and highway projects that are jeopardized by the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

The president made his partisan pitch on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, N.Y., with the deteriorating 58-year-old Tappan Zee Bridge as a backdrop to underscore the price of election-year inaction by Congress.

The 4.9-mile bridge north of New York City is being replaced in a $3.9 billion federal-state project.

Obama said unnamed Republican lawmakers are voting against transportation spending yet willing to take credit at the projects’ ribbon-cutting ceremonies. “They are more interested in saying ‘no’ because they are worried that maybe they’d have to be at a bill signing with me,” Obama said.

Without congressional action to beef up the hard-pressed Highway Trust Fund, money for transportation projects will “run out” by the end of summer, Obama warned. “The cupboard will be bare.”

That could imperil 700,000 jobs, potentially risking continuation of 112,000 active road and bridge projects as well as 5,600 transit projects, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has warned.

Texas has a great deal at stake, receiving about $3.2 billion a year from the federal government for transportation projects. That amounts to roughly 35 percent of the state’s annual spending on projects.

[…]

Sen. John Cornyn said the bipartisan Senate measure being marked up on Capitol Hill on Thursday still faces scrutiny and tinkering by other committees with jurisdiction, including the Senate Finance Committee. Cornyn, R-Texas, is a member of the 26-member panel that will come up with the funding mechanism for the measure, whether a gasoline tax hike, corporate tax “reform” or permission for states to impose tolls.

“As a first step, it is my hope that the bill will be improved as it moves through the committee process,” said Cornyn, the second in command in the Senate GOP leadership. “Congress must be willing to do the hard work of reforming our distorted federal aid system and addressing the solvency of the Trust Fund on a long-term basis.”

The two situations aren’t exactly the same, as there isn’t a quick and easy partial fix available to Congress. But the same comprehensive fix exists for each. Unfortunately, so does the stubborn resistance to it. I don’t foresee that resistance being overcome any time soon.

The other reason why Huy Fong won’t move to Texas

In a word, water.

Huy Fong Foods, which is staying put for now, is different from Toyota and other companies that have recently been wooed or moved to Texas. It is an agribusiness, relying on thousands of tons of local fresh chiles to operate. And in rapidly growing Texas, where the population is approaching 90 percent urban, some farming advocates complain that agriculture is being left behind in the scramble to accommodate growth. That is especially true when it comes to water policy, water planning specialists say.

“One of the dominant water management strategies for meeting future water supply needs is a conversion away from agriculture” in Texas and most of the West, said Bill Mullican, a former state water planner in Texas who now writes plans for nearby states.

With that in mind, he said, “if you’re going to bring agribusiness to Texas, I would think that you want to focus on those activities that were not water-dependent or at least heavily water-dependent.”

[…]

Most of the stories of Texas agriculture recently have been about high-profile closings and economic losses in the midst of drought, including the loss of a Cargill beef processing plant that employed more than 2,000 people in the Panhandle and the decimation of the Gulf Coast rice processing industry.

Some legislators have suggested that certain crops should not be grown in Texas at all. As the reservoirs that supply both Austin and rice farmers downstream continue to shrink, Austin-area lawmakers argue that growing rice requires too much water, and that those who live and do business alongside the reservoirs have more economic muscle. Along the Brazos River basin, Texas regulators prioritized cities and power plants over rice growers when the river’s users were asked to cut back.

“You already hear in the political realm, ‘Well, agriculture uses 95 percent of the water. We just need to turn the irrigation wells off,’” said Darren Hudson, an agricultural economist at Texas Tech University. “Those conflicts are going to just intensify.”

Villalba has suggested that the red jalapeño peppers needed to supply Huy Fong could be grown in the Rio Grande Valley. But the water rights system there, the result of a court case from the 1950s, prioritizes municipal use over agriculture.

“Agriculture is basically the user of last resort. They get what water is not for cities,” said Ray Prewett, the executive vice president of the Texas Vegetable Association, which is based in the border city of Mission. Even before the drought, agriculture in the region had suffered because of dwindling water supplies and urbanization, Prewett said. Farmers have found it more profitable to sell their water rights to growing cities, and to shift to dryland farming, which pays more in crop insurance.

Water for cities is also much more highly valued than irrigation water, according to the 2012 state water plan. The plan forecasts a shortfall of 260,000 acre-feet of agricultural water in the Rio Grande region by 2060, resulting in a loss of $48 million and 655 jobs. The water deficit for municipal users in the region is slightly above that, but its estimated impact is much greater — $2.2 billion and 54,000 jobs lost.

[…]

While chiles are a relatively drought-tolerant crop, requiring far less water than rice, other issues the agricultural industry faces could create problems. Ben Villalon, a well-known horticulturalist from Texas A&M University dubbed “Dr. Pepper” for his expertise in growing chiles, said chiles are largely gone from Texas because of higher labor costs and the difficulty of finding farm workers. Most Texas Republicans favor immigration policies that could further tighten the farm labor supply.

“It’s a sinking boat,” Villalon said. “They’ll never make it. The money’s just not there. It’s not profitable anymore.” Huy Fong’s pepper supplier has used mechanization and other techniques to cut costs, and in 2011, chile yields per acre were almost 10 times higher in California than in Texas.

See here for prior Sriracha blogging. I don’t really have a point to make about this, I just thought it was a useful perspective that hasn’t exactly been prominent amid the drama and the flood of Texas-versus-California stories. Besides, there’s nothing new to report since the Texas delegation visited the plant last week – the city of Irwindale still hasn’t taken action that might force Huy Fong’s hand, and may yet delay that decision again for at least another week – so here’s a picture of Rep. Jason Villalba in a hairnet to keep you amused until there is something new to note.