Last week, on the eve of a new Congress convening in Washington, Republican House members sought to restructure the Office of Congressional Ethics — a move that would have weakened the independent watchdog.
Whether the move had merit — supporters of the measure complained the office is inefficient and spends too much money on unnecessary complaints — is irrelevant.
The optics of such an effort were so bad they even prompted a scolding tweet from President-elect Donald Trump, who wrote: “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it … may be, their number one act and priority.”
Apparently, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not get the message.
Just a day later, he unveiled Senate Bill 6, legislation that would require people in Texas to use the bathroom of their biological sex in public schools and state and local government facilities.
The so-called “bathroom bill” is fashioned like one passed in North Carolina last year.
That law drew national attention, spurred weeks of controversy and even prompted some businesses to boycott the state.
North Carolina filed a lawsuit, since withdrawn, against the Obama administration for threatening to withhold federal funds because of the law.
Business leaders in Texas fear a similar backlash against the state will occur should Patrick’s bathroom bill become law.
The Texas Association of Business issued a report last year warning that any such legislation could cost the Lone Star State between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs if companies decided to take their business elsewhere.
Chris Wallace, the group’s president, warned legislators: “Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”
He called SB 6 “wholly unnecessary.”
Indeed, there are valid and reasonable arguments that can and should be made in support policies that require individuals to use public, restrooms that correspond to their biological sex, even when those laws invite discord and reproach.
The North Carolina bathroom law was passed in response to a Charlotte city ordinance that allowed transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choosing, including those in private businesses.
And North Carolina’s law was passed under the Obama administration, which has aggressively imposed its progressive agenda on states, frequently at the cost of religious liberty.
But with Hillary Clinton’s defeat and Republicans in charge in Austin, there is no such threat in Texas — not even in Tarrant County, where the Fort Worth ISD has pulled back from a controversial bathroom policy after Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion arguing that the policy violated parental rights.
While Trump has not signaled any particular interest in pursuing a conservative social agenda, it’s a safe bet he will not further Obama’s agenda or continue to pursue action against North Carolina.
Patrick insists his effort is needed to protect children in public schools and other vulnerable people from predators in public restrooms.
“We know we’re on the right side of the issue. We’re on the right side of history,” he said in a news conference last week.
But Patrick’s decision to push this issue now, in a non-threatening national environment, with plenty of other serious policy concerns to address, is foolhardy and antagonistic.
President Barack Obama’s farewell speech on Tuesday reminded us that things are about to change in Washington and across the country.
Whether that’s for better or worse remains to be seen, but with Republicans (at least in name) in charge of Congress and soon the White House, they have a new opportunity to set a policy agenda that is focused on building a strong and prosperous nation.
When they are waylaid by silly pet issues — as the Obama administration often was — they risk losing the public trust.
The same is true in Texas.
Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss weighed in on SB 6, saying it is not the “most urgent concern of mine.”
Let’s hope other members of his party follow suit and focus on issues that require immediate attention instead of needlessly stirring up controversy.