Proposed Texas GOP platform calls for the Bible in schools, electoral changes that would lock Democrats out of statewide office

Proposed Texas GOP platform calls for the Bible in schools, electoral changes that would lock Democrats out of statewide office
1 month 3 weeks 1 day ago Saturday, May 25 2024 May 25, 2024 May 25, 2024 7:25 PM May 25, 2024 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Conventioneers listen to speeches during the Texas GOP Convention Friday, May 24, 2024 in San Antonio. Credit: Eli Hartman/The Texas Tribune

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Republican Party of Texas delegates voted Saturday on a platform that called for new laws to require the Bible to be taught in public schools and a constitutional amendment that would require statewide elected leaders to win the popular vote in a majority of Texas counties.

Other proposed planks of the 50-page platform included proclamations that “abortion is not healthcare it is homicide”; that gender-transition treatment for children is “child abuse”; calls to reverse recent name changes to military bases and “publicly honor the southern heroes”; support for declaring gold and silver as legal tender; and demands that the U.S. government disclose “all pertinent information and knowledge” of UFOs.

The party hopes to finalize its platform on Wednesday, after Saturday’s votes on each proposal are tabulated.

Passed by delegates at the party’s biennial convention, the platform has traditionally been seen not as a definitive list of Republican stances, but a compromise document that represents the interests of the party’s various business, activist and social conservative factions. But in recent years — and amid a party civil war that’s pushed it further right — the platform has been increasingly used as a basis for censuring Republican officeholders who the party’s far right has attacked as insufficiently conservative, including Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-San Antonio.

As the party has drifted further right, its platform has done the same. In 2022, it called for a referendum on Texas secession; resistance to the “Great Reset,” a conspiracy theory that claims global elites are using environmental and social policies to enslave the world’s population; proclamations that homosexuality is an “abnormal lifestyle choice”; and a declaration that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Many of those planks were also included in this year’s platform, which was debated late into Friday night and presented for a vote Saturday afternoon.

One proposal asserts that illegal immigration is the “greatest threat to American security and sovereignty” and calls for the state and federal governments to devote all available resources to deporting undocumented immigrants.

Perhaps the most consequential plank calls for a constitutional amendment to require that candidates for statewide office carry a majority of Texas’ 254 counties to win an election, a model similar to the U.S. electoral college.

Under current voting patterns, in which Republicans routinely win in the state’s rural counties, such a requirement would effectively end Democrats’ chances of winning statewide office. In 2022, Gov. Greg Abbott carried 235 counties, while Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried most of the urban, more populous counties and South Texas counties. Statewide, Abbott won 55% of the popular vote while O’Rourke carried 44%.

However, some attorneys question whether such a proposal would be constitutional and conform with the Voting Rights Act because it would most likely limit the voting power of racial minorities, who are concentrated in a relatively small number of counties. (The party’s platform also reiterates its previous calls for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act).

The platform also takes a step further some of the party’s previous calls for more Christianity in public life. The 2022 platform proclaimed that the United States was “founded on Judeo-Christian principles,” for instance, and demanded the repeal of federal prohibitions on political activity by churches.

The 2024 platform goes significantly further: It urges lawmakers and the State Board of Education to “require instruction on the Bible, servant leadership and Christian self-governance,” and supports the use of religious chaplains in schools — which was made legal under a law passed by the state Legislature last year.

Though more subtle, another proposed plank could also aid Republicans’ ongoing attempts to further infuse Christianity into public education. This year’s platform also calls for Thomas Jefferson’s “Letter to the Danbury Baptists” to be included in the list of “original founding documents” to be taught in history classes, along with the U.S. Constitution or The Federalist Papers. Jefferson’s Danbury letter is often cited by activists such as David Barton, a Texas pastor and self-described “amateur historian” who has spent decades arguing that church-state separation is a “myth” that has been used to shroud America’s true Christian roots — a claim that has been thoroughly debunked by actual historians and experts, many of them also conservative Christians.

The new platform comes as Republicans increasingly embrace once-fringe theories such as Christian nationalism, which argues that the United States’ founding was God-ordained, and therefore its institutions and laws should reflect conservative, Christian views. Barton’s ideas have been a key driver of that movement, and were repeatedly cited by lawmakers last year during debates over the chaplains bill and in legislation that would have required the Ten Commandments to be posted in public school classrooms. Barton’s group, WallBuilders, was also an exhibitor at this year’s Texas GOP convention, and the party has increasingly aligned with two far-right, fundamentalist Christian billionaires, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks.

The draft platform also leans into the Texas GOP’s open hostility toward Texas House leadership and Phelan, with positions that would weaken the power of the House speaker and distribute power to the GOP caucus in the House as a whole. One plank advocates for limiting the speaker to two consecutive terms. Another calls for a discharge petition process, which would allow members to send bills to the House floor for a vote even if they haven’t passed the House committee process.

On Friday night, the convention elected former Collin County GOP Chair Abraham George as the next party chair, a vote that is expected to continue the party’s trajectory. During his candidate speech on Thursday, George called for the party to fight Democrats, radicals and “RINO” Republicans who go against “everything we stand for.”

During a speech on the convention stage on Saturday, former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Don Huffines carried a printed version of the platform with him. He noted that Republicans have controlled the Legislature and the governor’s mansion for two decades, but the party still struggles to secure its priorities.

“We could get any piece of legislation done anytime we want, but, every session, we struggle to get our platform into law,” Huffines said.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/05/25/texas-republican-party-convention-platform/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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