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Review | As Texas Goes… By Gail Collins

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on May 25, 2012

As Texas Goes... by Gail Collins

ISBN-13: 9780871404077
Publisher: Liveright Publishing
Publication date: 6/04/2012
Pages: 288

New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins knows plenty about Texas and its outsized influence on the rest of the United States. She writes with insight and humor on such issues as Governor Rick Perry’s contempt for the federal job he was vying for as a 2012 presidential candidate.

As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda, Collins latest book, cautions against perception and the future of politics, the environment, education, the economy, religion and healthcare in a place accustomed to worthier bragging rights.

The author presents solid facts and humorous anecdotes to show how the Lone Star State has painted itself into a corner with the broad brush of wide open spaces, while 80 percent of Texans actually live in crowded places.

She writes that this misguided perception is defiantly held by denizens of the most populated regions in Texas.

It creates the impression that you’re just a stone’s throw from the open plains, even if you’re actually five minutes from downtown.

A Texas resident of a subdivision with deed restrictions or a neighborhood with historic preservation laws? Terrific! Property owners residing within the Houston city limits have no laws that can prohibit someone enterprising from setting up a paint factory next door. Saying no to zoning laws and land use ordinances, “inside the loop” Houstonians always have the option of riding off into the expanse of the chaparral.

(Disregard the fact that the South Texas chaparral actually remains a vast, sparsely populated space southwest of San Antonio to the border with Mexico—and another lesson in perception.)

According to Collins, Texans avoid anything that flies contrary to an “empty places ethos.” Even progressives (who exist in enclaves) tend to keep quiet, not because they’re outnumbered or bullied. Like most Texans, progressives here deem it quite unneighborly to tell others how their politics ought to look, sound or smell.

Overuse of the word passel aside, the author unleashes considerable spleen on Republicans and their Tea Party brethren in the Texas legislature. Deservedly so. Lobbyists spend $2 million per lawmaker, according to Texans for Public Justice, to have legislation passed that would benefit their interests.

This might be cause for outrage in the rest of the United States where most people read newspapers and demand term limits for their governors. She considers the prospect of Texas influencing the national agenda frightening when limited government and deregulation diminishes the quality of life.

Collins cites a report published yearly by the Texas Legislative Study Group, Texas on the Brink, that ranks the state:

• 1st in the amount of carbon dioxide emissions

• 1st in the number of uninsured

• 4th in percentage of people living below the federal poverty level

• 7th in the number of teenage births

• 43rd in high school graduation rates

• 45th in the percentage of people who vote

Think four new congressional districts might be cause for celebration? Collins proposes that Hispanics, whose population growth saw the most gains in the 2010 U.S. Census, should have come out winners. The Republican-controlled legislature, however, took it upon themselves to draw new maps so only one district would represent a Hispanic majority.

Collins devotes a chapter to the infamous textbook wars which lost the State Board of Education considerable credibility in 2009. Then board chairman Don McElroy, a creationist dentist from Bryan, led a review of the science curriculum in which he called for teachers to cover “the strengths and weaknesses’’ of the theory of evolution.

A creationist dentist? A doctor of dental surgery refusing to accept sound scientific evidence? Collins writes:

Sometimes, Texas’ most important export is not oil but irony.

As Texas Goes... by Gail Collins is a worthwhile read for Texans nostalgic for the days of Ann Richards when a drawl stood for something more steadfast.

Category: Nonfiction, Politics, Texas

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