On May 30, a news bulletin from progressive political site Texas Blue confirmed a rumor that had been buzzing through the wires since at least the November elections: Corpus Christi native and wildly successful trial lawyer Mikal Watts has formed an exploratory committee. From U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s seat, it probably looks more like a hunting party, since Watts is seeking a public referendum on the lackluster career of the junior lawmaker, who has floundered in Kay Bailey Hutchison’s shadow since 2002.
Now, I want a Democratic Senator from the great state of Texas pretty badly, and Watts, who graduated with honors from UT-Austin and the UT School of Law before going on to build a respected and loathed plaintiff’s firm (thanks to his successful settlement of the first post-recall Ford/Firestone rollover suit), could be a fearsome candidate. He put $3.8 million into his campaign coffers to “even the playing field” with Cornyn, and Christian Archer is currently in talks to serve as Watts’s campaign manager. Archer didn’t fare well with failed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez (he had national assistance with the FUBAR), but he helped engineer come-from-behind drama in three other notable races: Bill White for mayor of Houston, our own Phil Hardberger’s surprise trouncing of golden boy Julian Castro, and Juan Garcia for state rep out of Corpus. Watts provided saving-grace cash on the last, and no doubt got to view Archer’s tactical skills up close.
But there’s a catch: Watts is pro-life, which as we all know by now is the far right’s euphemism for being against women’s full freedom and citizenship. Fundamentally, being “pro-life” means putting the rights of a potential citizen above those of an actual member of society. It doesn’t take much Venn-diagramming to see that the more a society extends rights and privileges to entities that aren’t also subject to responsibilities and accountability, the less it resembles a constitutional republic and the more it looks like a certain villa in Rome.
While Watts is said to be working on a position that might resemble Rudy Giuliani’s, now is the time to say we won’t settle for anything less than: I’m pro-life, but I believe that is a personal value and decision in which the government has no legitimate role — kind of like sex between consenting adults, or choosing a religious affiliation.
Some politicos have suggested that a pro-life Dem beats a pro-whatever Cornyn. Assuming the Ds keep their majority through the next election, I’m not sure that’s true; a neutralized opponent could be better than pondering that old lament: with friends like this, who needs enemies?
Rights are not like ballast on a ship, piled in order of lesser necessity. As a woman, I find it particularly alarming when men suggest that a pro-choice platform is expendable in favor of a real alternative-energy policy or, say, someone who’s less fascist. As soon as we set up the discussion in terms of tradeoffs, we’ve already weakened our position as advocates of human rights, whether for Iraqi civilians, uncharged “enemy combatants,” or a pregnant woman who isn’t prepared for parenthood.
I’ve been reassured by some behind-the-scenes folks that Watts “supports 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does,” which is not bad news in and of itself. Ninety percent of PP’s business includes providing reduced-cost medical exams, sex education, and easy access to birth control. But that additional 10 percent is also our right and it’s not negotiable.
While we’re on the topic of not ranking our rights like BFFs on a junior-high binder, let’s not forget our dues-paying friends in the gay mafia. Our next Democratic Senate nominee has to support the right of GLBTs to get hitched. As wiser pundits have pointed out, the religious question has no place in the law books — the government isn’t in the business of telling churches which unions they have to bless — but the civil act of getting a license, and sharing assets, inlaws, and joint income-tax returns must be available to all citizens, regardless of creed, color, sexual orientation, or taste in bridesmaid dresses and floral centerpieces.
It’s important that Democrats pressure Watts to make clear commitments on these issues early in the campaign. Because of his financial resources and the attention that the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is paying to him, his candidacy could discourage other hopefuls from jumping into the race — such as State Representative Rick Noriega of Houston, a favorite of the liberal Texas blogosphere. If Mikal Watts wants to be the candidate for all of Democratic Texas, he can do it by reclaiming the commitment to individual liberty that has been shunned by Republicans as they become the Party of the Police State.