The PJ Tatler

#TPPF Forum: Sparks on the Border

On Thursday, while Wendy Davis was in north Texas singing the praises of ships that take on water, the Texas Public Policy Foundation was holding its 2014 policy orientation for state legislators in Austin. The forum wraps up today. I’ve been attending since Wednesday and it has not lacked for substance or star power. Keynote speakers this week include state Rep. Scott Turner, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Sen. Ted Cruz this morning. Of those three, only Turner isn’t a household name among conservatives across the country yet, but he will be.

Between the speeches, the TPPF has been running sessions on major issues facing Texas, and as one would expect, many of these issues carry national implications. The border and private property rights sessions attracted my attention Thursday.

The private property rights session was subdued, with the highlight being state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio) offering strong arguments favoring the rights of the family farmer and rancher against the ravages of state and corporate taking of personal property. Van De Putte is running alongside Davis on the Democrats’ run for governor and lieutenant governor, and the contrast the pair struck yesterday — Davis having no serious details on an education issue she was setting up to be a centerpiece of her campaign, while Van De Putte showed command of a serious but unglamorous issue she has worked on in the legislature for years — might cause some in that party to consider flipping their ticket.

The immigration session was a bit more lively. John Fund moderated the packed session. Lowlights included the admonition from Dr. Barrett Duke, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, to more or less forget about enforcing immigration law because the New Testament demands it. Or something. It’s a point we’ve all heard many times, and one that this Southern Baptist doesn’t quite get. Those who proffer this line of argument never discuss the victims of our open border. How it’s ethical to encourage some people to knowingly break the law, and look the other way when they do, is never addressed.

But in the midst of a discussion that drifted toward how Republicans really ought to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform, a man stood up in the very back of the room to ask a question. Once he took the mic and spoke, heads turned: That’s former Sen. Phil Gramm. Over the course of a couple of minutes, Gramm made two points. One, when he was running and winning statewide in Texas, he voted against the 1986 immigration amnesty that President Reagan signed into law. In his next election, Gramm won a majority of the Hispanic vote in Texas — the only Republican to ever do that. Gramm scoffed at the notion that Republicans must support the immigration reform that’s on the table now in order to do better with Hispanic voters. He said that Republicans should talk about jobs and values, both of which bring the GOP and a majority of Hispanic voters into agreement. His second point was also salient: Why should any Republican sign onto any immigration reform that depends on Barack Obama to enforce it? President Obama can’t even be depended on to treat his own health care law properly. Why would he enforce border security provisions that he does not support? Sen. Marco Rubio has made a similar point, but that isn’t stopping him from trusting Obama anyway in supporting the Senate’s bill. A lawless president is a lawless president, full stop, and we have a lawless president who believes that he can rewrite and even gut laws after Congress passes them.

Gramm made good points, mostly unanswered, though one of the panelists allowed that any immigration reform passed now should not take effect until after Obama leaves office. I guess that’s better than the one panelist’s call to just throw the border open and bring 20 million more people into to our hobbled economy, but not by a lot.