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By Robert T. Garrett, The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Socially conservative lawmakers are pushing back against marriage victories by gays and lesbians in federal court and moves by Dallas, Plano and other cities to broaden anti-discrimination measures.

Junior Republicans in the GOP-led Texas Legislature have filed several bills that would blunt gay rights advances, such as one to strip the pay of any local official who issues a same-sex marriage license.

They also have introduced proposals to protect business owners if, based on their religious beliefs, they refuse to comply with local ordinances that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A leading social conservative activist said the bills are designed to uphold what she called traditional values and rebuff an overreach by gay rights supporters.

“Tolerance isn’t good enough for them. Now, they want to meddle,” said Cathie Adams of Dallas, president Texas Eagle Forum. “And they have gone too far.”

The latest efforts in the Capitol have thrown gay rights backers on the defensive.

“We are likely headed for the freedom to marry to exist in all 50 states within a short period of time, and there are a small number of people freaked out by that,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, which lobbies on gay rights issues.

“They are grasping at straws, some of which are unconstitutional, in an effort to bypass what will become federal law,” he said.

The tense back and forth between the two sides is an early sign of what might unfold over the five-month legislative session. But legislative committees haven’t yet had hearings on the bills, and they are a long way from passage.

Discussions of the measures so far have been strong on generalities, including denials by some sponsors that their bills are aimed solely at undermining gay rights victories.

Fuzzing the debate is Governor Greg Abbott’s comment last month that “Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans.”

He said the Legislature should rein in localities that trample on Texas’ low-tax, low-regulation approach to governing.

But in denouncing “unchecked overregulation by cities,” he did not mention the recent passage of ordinances in Dallas, Plano, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Last year, as attorney general, Abbott lost a bid in federal court to keep intact Texas’ 2005 gay marriage ban. Abbott called the case “an issue on which there are good, well-meaning people on both sides.”

He has appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments last month. Also, the Supreme Court has decided to take up same-sex marriage cases from Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.

Attracting much of the attention so far is a bill intended to stop state and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Those who do so would lose pay and benefits.

Thirty-six of the House’s 150 members have signed on in support. The lead sponsor, Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), predicts it will pass the House easily.

Bell said he wants to use “the power of the purse” in part to rebuke federal judges, such as U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio, who nearly a year ago ruled that Texas’ same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Bell said such judges have ignored Texas voters’ 3-to-1 support for a 2005 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He said they’ve also ignored past Supreme Court rulings that leave marriage definitions to the state.

“When you take away that sovereign right of states, you tear away at the Union,” he said.

Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive advocacy group, dismissed Bell’s bill as “a legislative temper tantrum.”

“If federal courts strike down the marriage ban, it would be ridiculous to punish public employees for simply doing their job when issuing a legal marriage license,” he said. “Legislators don’t get to choose which parts of the U.S. Constitution to accept and which to ignore.”

Dallas County Clerk John Warren, a Democrat, told the Texas Observer last month that he would obey a federal court order, if one comes down, and issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Bell said that while his bill docks a wayward county clerk’s pay, the cut would be based on the amount of time spent supporting and issuing licenses for gay marriage.

“I don’t read it as a perpetual situation,” he said of the proposed sanctions.

Civil liberties and gay rights groups fear that other measures being introduced could roll back cities’ gay rights ordinances.

Senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) has proposed a constitutional amendment to reject impingements by the state or local governments on individuals’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Texans should be free to run their businesses in accordance with their faith as intended by the founders of our nation, not forced by government entities to surrender their religious identity or act against their conscience,” she said.

Dallas GOP Rep. Jason Villalba is pushing a constitutional amendment to prohibit state and local infringements on “free exercise of religion,” such as allowing Nativity scenes on courthouse grounds.

Villalba said his idea is more narrow than the Senate version, which would protect “a sincerely held religious belief.”

“That could be anything. That could be, ‘I don’t like gays, I don’t like dogs, I don’t like fat people,'” he said. “The Senate approach would clog the courts with unnecessary lawsuits.”

Villalba said he wasn’t against cities passing ordinances, such as Plano has extended anti-discrimination protections to people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) said that ordinance strays too far toward “criminalizing decisions that may be based on religious belief.”

He and other lawmakers are drafting a bill calling for a two-year study by a panel of experts on what kinds of laws cities and counties can pass. That could range from charging for plastic bags at grocery stores to penalizing those who refuse to serve customers based on sexual orientation.

Photo: Bill & Heather Jones via Flickr

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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