Up until Tuesday afternoon of this last week, it was a violation of state law for anyone to use in a political advertisement any video or audio footage from the legislature’s web stream.
Think about that. Your legislator could give a fiery speech opposing your principles, yet if you used the video to hold him accountable, the speech regulators at the Texas Ethics Commission could fine you up to $5,000.
The provision was little more than an insurance package for incumbents. It made it infinitely more difficult for their own words to be used against them.
The law is now gone. Not because of legislators, or because the TEC (which defended the unconstitutional statute). It’s gone because someone was willing to challenge it in a court of law.
Briscoe Cain, who is running against Democrat-enabler Wayne Smith (R-Baytown), filed a suit because he was forbidden from using video of Smith on the House floor.
Attorney General Ken Paxton told the court he wasn’t going to defend what every single observer and legal scholar recognizes to be an illegal restraint on the First Amendment. (Because the TEC exists to help ruling-class incumbents, they opted to defend the law themselves, despite acknowledging that it is unconstitutional… And because incumbent Wayne Smith wanted them to.)
Empower Texans’ general counsel, Tony McDonald, reports that a Harris County district judge issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the law.
One hopes legislators will take the hint from the state’s top lawyer, a judge, and the entire legal community, and scrap the law.
But one’s hopes should be tempered by remembering that in 2015, the Democrat-enabling Republican leadership in the Texas House proposed making it illegal for anyone to record a legislator in the Capitol without the legislator’s permission. Recall also that the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, liberal Republican Byron Cook of Corsicana, refuses to allow citizens to record his committee’s meetings unless State Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) issues them a permit.
Some legislators are now worried that their words on the House or Senate floor will be used against them. They worry that if what’s said on the House floor is compared with what’s said at the local Rotary Club or Republican Women’s meeting, citizens might be frustrated with some glaring inconsistencies.
And they’re probably right. Citizens would be very upset.
Texans deserve legislators who will govern with the principles upon which they campaign. We deserve better than bait-and-switch Republicans or con artist Democrats. The surest way to clean up lawmakers’ acts is to expose them to more sunlight.
Thanks to Briscoe Cain and Ken Paxton, the windows on the legislature are being opened a little wider. It’s now up to us as Texans to look in and take action.