Published on May 13th, 20150
Chris Ladd: Marijuana inspires strange politics
The campaign to legalize marijuana took a strange turn this week. A committee in the Texas House approved a bill that would remove the state’s prohibitions entirely. Procedural obstacles unique to the Texas Legislature mean that the bill will not likely make it to a vote in this session. Nonetheless their action is an unprecedented landmark, a sort of Reagan-in-Reykjavik moment for conservatives in the debate over the drug war. Here’s why.
Two Republicans joined three Democrats on the House’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to approve the sweeping proposal and send it to the House’s calendar committee. One of them is David Simpson, a Tea Party star who introduced the measure.
Having Simpson back an unusual piece of legislation is perhaps not all that interesting. He’s the guy who led the State House’s idiotic fight against the Homeland Security Department’s airport screening rules two sessions ago. To put it succinctly, he’s an odd duck.
There are two other factors that make this scenario worth watching. First is Simpson’s reasoning. He introduces a rare touch of ideological consistency to a so-called “libertarian” movement that seems mostly interested in imposing Christian fundamentalist sharia. In an argument laced with more scriptural references than the average Sunday sermon, Simpson makes this unusually insightful observation in a blog post at the Texas Tribune:
You would think that our country’s history with alcohol prohibition — an era marked by bootlegging, organized crime, government corruption and a rise in crime in general — would have prevented us from making the same mistake again.
But our current “war on drugs” policies, though well intended, have accomplished the exact opposite, spurring a proliferation of ever-changing exotic designer drugs and a disregard for constitutional protections in the name of eliminating drugs at any cost. Just think of no-knock warrants, stop-and-frisk, civil asset forfeiture and billionaire drug lords.
In other words, a far right Tea Party fundamentalist examined a complex issue of national importance and reached a nuanced, intelligent conclusion that could form the basis of bipartisan policy-making. This does not happen every day. It deserves appreciation.
But for a serious political watcher this is still not the most interesting thing about the committee’s vote this week. What’s truly groundbreaking is that Simpson was joined in his yes vote on HB 2165 by Republican Rep. Todd Hunter from Corpus Christi.
Who is Rep. Hunter, you ask? He is no one in particular and that’s what makes his vote interesting. Hunter is a solid member of the state’s shrinking bloc of relatively rational Republicans. He’s not a cartoon character or oddball, but someone who sits squarely in the party’s dull gray business base. He does his job and goes home. If a figure like Todd Hunter is willing to attach his name to a yes vote on HB 2165, then marijuana legalization isn’t very controversial anymore.
Simpson’s office says that the early feedback from back home is very positive. If that’s true and that pattern holds up, it will represent a powerful shift. Simpson represents an East Texas base that is wildly religious and reflexively conservative. If his constituents don’t hate this bill, then come the next legislative session you can expect a serious, bipartisan push to end marijuana prohibition in Texas.
Here’s a breakdown of the committee vote on HB 2165:
Abel Herrero (D) Corpus Christi
Joe Moody (D) El Paso
Terry Canales (D) Edinburg
Todd Hunter (R) Corpus Christi
David Simpson (R) Longview
Jeff Leach (R) Plano
Matt Shaheen (R) Plano
About the Author: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years.