Sherry Sylvester


Every parent should read ‘Gender Queer’

In virtually every news report of parents demanding that public school librarians do their job and remove inappropriate or pornographic materials from school libraries, the book Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe is at the top of the objectionable titles list. So many librarians and school board members are defending the book that I figured I should read it. Since the Texas Education Association just released guidelines for library acquisitions that include parental monitoring, every Texas parent should probably read it too.

Gender Queer is an autobiographical graphic novel chronicling the first 30 years of Kobabe’s life, focusing on the difficulties she faced being a girl. Being a girl is no walk in the park, but what is striking about Kobabe’s story is that she determines early on that there is no path forward for her as a female.

As she tells her story of growing up, her parents have only cameo roles and are portrayed as self-absorbed hippies. She has siblings, but there’s no close family, there’s no community, no faith or church, no mentors at school. She says she is suffering from gender dysphoria — she wants to be a boy — but at no point does she or anyone in her family mention counseling or a medical consultation.

She believes she was arbitrarily assigned her female gender at birth, and she is convinced it was a mistake. She reports that as a child, she finally found her true self by reading pornography and stories by people who were also gender dysphoric.

Adults who define themselves as something other than straight or gay represent about 1% of the population, but almost everyone Maia comes into contact with in her book defines themselves this way.

She describes herself as nonbinary for a while, but the term apparently wasn’t unique enough for her. (Some say so many teenagers are using it that it has become the new “goth.”) At age 29, Kobabe decides to call herself “gender queer,” which will probably stick, since her book with that title is now a bestseller (due to the controversy it has caused).

The book includes graphic and gross descriptions of sex and masturbation. Any reasonably competent school librarian should be able to see in an instant that it is not appropriate for a public school library. Nevertheless, it has been found in schools all over Texas. Parents in a number of Texas towns, including Prosper and Keller , have demanded that it be removed.

Last week, the National Coalition Against Censorship joined most of the state’s newspaper editorial pages in chastising Texas parents for demanding that these kinds of books be taken out of public school libraries. The NCAC alleges the parents are “censoring books and denying students the well-rounded education that is essential to preserving a healthy democracy.”

They can’t be serious. Clearly, they have not read Gender Queer. Whether the book is pornographic is up for debate, as pornography always is. But there is no censorship here. Determining what kinds of books are in public school libraries paid for by taxpaying parents is very different than saying Gender Queer shouldn’t be in any library. No one is saying that.

Parents should read this book for two reasons: first, to see what not to do when rearing adolescents. Kobabe’s story includes so many opportunities for her parents to intervene and help, but they never do. Instead, she is given carte blanche approval to pursue a quest that ultimately can lead to dangerous puberty blockers and surgery and put her at higher risk for suicide.

It is no accident that Black Lives Matter advocates getting rid of nuclear families altogether so that children will not be hindered from saying they are boys when they are girls and vice versa. These activists insist that “everyone should choose if they are a boy or a girl or both or neither.”

Parents should read the book to be aware of how their children are being indoctrinated into phony notions of gender fluidity. Ridiculous terms such as “assigned female at birth” and “nonbinary” have become normalized in our schools.

But even kindergartners understand that sex is binary — boys are boys, and girls are girls. That’s apparently why there has been such blowback in Florida over legislation to stop the teaching of homosexuality and gender identity to children aged 3 through 7.

Again, they can’t be serious.


Texas Rules for Mail-in Ballots Are Working

Calls from the left and the media to repeal the updated rules for mail-in ballots are predictable. They opposed requiring photo voter identification to vote too. The attack on the reforms to mail-in ballot rules defy the data—and common sense.

First, the numbers. Opponents of the new law highlight that over 12% of mail-in ballots were rejected in the last primary election. That sounds high until you consider that more than 3 million people voted, making those rejected mail-in ballots less than 1% of all ballots cast.

But even that would overstate the problem, because the Texas law requires officials to work with voters to try to reconcile rejected ballots. Famously, Willie Nelson’s initial ballot was rejected, which he then reportedly fixed and resubmitted. There are surely others who did the same.

Additionally, once a voter received word their ballot was rejected, they could have decided to vote in person instead. We don’t know how many did, but while opponents of the law are attempting to claim that “confusing new rules” were responsible for large numbers of supposedly disenfranchised voters, the truth is that even if there was some initial confusion, it only affected a tiny fraction of votes cast. There is no reason to repeal the new law.

And now for some common sense. Elections have rules because without them we cannot trust the results. The two most basic rules for ensuring election integrity are that voters must demonstrate they are who they say they are and that they are eligible to vote in the election. Most voters do this by voting in person and showing an election worker a photo identification card that has both the voter’s picture and address on it, verifying identity and eligibility.

Mail-in ballots are inherently less secure. There is no way to guarantee that the ballot was received or filled out by the voter who applied for it. The identity protections for mail-in ballots that existed before the new law, such as matching signatures, proved meaningless.

A system in which some votes are verified and others are not is unacceptable. That’s why the Legislature was compelled to act last year. Texas has strong protections and relatively easy procedures for voting in person. Now the same is true for mail-in ballots.

Not only is this common sense, but the new measures are supported by the vast majority of Texans. In polls taken during the debate over the new rules last year, 89% of Texans said they support photo voter ID and 81% said voting in person and by mail should have the same voter identification requirements.

Every rejected ballot is one that couldn’t prove voter identity and/or eligibility. The increased number of rejected mail-in ballots is evidence that the law is working to prevent the inclusion of unverified and potentially fraudulent votes, which protects the legitimacy of election results, just as Texans want.

Do voters make honest mistakes? Of course. But there’s a process for reconciling mistakes for mail-in voters who neglect to put their address or even their own name on a mail-in ballot.

Texas voters don’t buy that the updated rules are too “confusing.” Fully 80% agree mail-in ballots should include either the identification number of a valid government ID or a partial Social Security number.

In the March primary, over 99% of voters were able to understand the rules and vote successfully without issue. For the tiny fraction of those who didn’t, there’s a process for making it right. Texas’ election reforms strengthen protections for every ballot and improve confidence in election results. It’s a better system that clearly works.


Opinion: Texas fails victims of sex trafficking. Overhaul child welfare services now.

By Sherry SylvesterAndrew C. Brown, J.D.|April 27, 2022This commentary was originally published in the Houston Chronicle.

Texans were horrified to learn of the Department of Family and Protective Services’ mishandling of allegations that children in its care were sexually exploited at a shelter intended to protect victims of sex trafficking. In the weeks since the story made it clear that DFPS has broken its promise to children to take them to a place that is safer than the place where they were in, the Texas House and Senate convened emergency hearings to get to the bottom of what happened, as did the judge overseeing the decade-old federal lawsuit against the state’s foster care system.

This outrage is just the latest in a long line of heartbreakingavoidable incidents that are rooted in organizational dysfunction and a toxic internal culture. Private providers, foster parents and even its own employees have described the department’s approach to internal management and external oversight as “punitive,” “crisis-driven,” fear-based, and lacking a unifying vision and clear guiding principles.

This toxicity permeates the organization, rendering it utterly incapable of protecting the children in its care. And it’s resistant to change. Efforts at reforming the department have either been ignored, delayed or poorly implemented.

The problems plaguing DFPS have been well-known for at least a decade. In 2011, Texas was sued in federal court on behalf of children in its permanent care. The lawsuit alleged that conditions in the state-run foster care system were so bad that they violated the constitutional rights of the children. In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that children in the custody of the department routinely leave more damaged than when they entered. As part of her ruling, Jack required the state to comply with a series of remedial orders intended to fix the problems with the system.

Following Judge Jack’s ruling, the Texas Legislature got to work enacting reforms to give the department the tools needed to turn things around. In 2017, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 11, which laid out a blueprint for reform, including standards that should have prevented anything like this from ever happening. For example, the legislation sought to increase accountability for DFPS and providers on delivering optimal outcomes for children, establish a quality assurance framework, strengthen standards for child protective services investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect, and improve monitoring of DFPS contractors.

SB 11 represented a fundamental transformation of the Texas child welfare system designed to make it safer and more responsive to the unique needs of children, while increasing the role of local communities in caring for their most vulnerable.

Yet, nearly five years after the bill was signed into law, it has yet to be fully implemented.

In response to DFPS all but completely ignoring the Legislature, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst passed Senate Bill 1896 to address continuing safety problems within the foster care system and spur the full implementation of past reforms. Again, the Legislature has been ignored.

Gov. Abbott made foster care an emergency item during the 85th Legislature, including it on the call for multiple special sessions, convening workgroups and directly ordering the commissioners of both DFPS and the Health and Human Services Commission to comply with the remedial orders. Yet DFPS remains entrenched in the same cycles of failure.

More funding is routinely touted as the solution to the problems plaguing the Texas foster care system but the data show substantially increasing funding for DFPS has not been a path to positive outcomes for foster children.

The Legislature has increased the department’s budget by more than $800 million since 2015 and has authorized hundreds of millions of dollars in additional emergency appropriations during that same period. The problems have only gotten worse.

A major focus of this infusion of cash has been increasing caseworker salaries to reduce turnover and maintain manageable caseloads. In late 2016, the Legislature approved an emergency request by DFPS for $150 million to immediately raise caseworker annual salaries by $12,000 and hire an additional 829 employees. After the investment, staff turnover dramatically decreased in 2017 and caseloads began coming down. However, these gains proved short-lived. Staff turnover began increasing again in 2018 and spiked to its highest rate in a decade by 2021. While it’s likely the pandemic played some role in that spike, it doesn’t explain why in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the percentage of staff turnover was about the same as the turnover percentage in 2019. Clearly, infusing more money into a broken system isn’t the answer.

There is one promising solution that has been recommended for years but hasn’t been attempted yet. It calls for a complete reorganization of DFPS, with a focus on transforming the agency’s management and culture. This recommendation has been repeated by numerous outside experts hired by the state to provide guidance on ending the crisis.

In 2014, for example, the Stephen Group noted that “the missing key ingredient” was a “unifying vision that clearly defines success and demonstrates how to get there.” A 2016 progress report on the implementation of the Stephen Group’s recommendations found that while some progress was being made, the department was struggling to embed changes into practice and had yet to develop a positive culture of transformation and excellence. Earlier this year, an expert panel report published in connection with the ongoing federal lawsuit stated the need for leadership to “immediately adopt and apply a set of shared values and principles” and work to rebuild relationships between the department and service providers.

The latest scandal sparked immediate action from legislative leaders. Within 24 hours of the story breaking, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick established the Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services. The special committee is tasked with investigating the department’s continual failures and putting all options on the table to transform the agency.

That’s a good start. If it follows through with this directive, the special committee has the opportunity to bring long-overdue change to DFPS and enable Texas to once again keep its promise to the state’s most vulnerable children.


Texas Hispanics Reject Democrats’ Left-Wing Woke Agenda

Despite constant efforts by the Texas media and their collaborators in the progressive left, to divide us by race and ethnicity, a new statewide survey of Hispanic Texans conducted for the Texas Public Policy Foundation finds that 84% say they are proud of being Texans and almost 60% say they have the same access to the American dream as Anglo Texans.

Focus groups conducted last fall found that Hispanics, like most Texans, say they are proud to live in a state that does things right—where the cost of living is low, there are jobs and business opportunities, and the economy is strong.

Progressives and the media have also lost Texas Hispanics in the war against history. Fully 72% of Texas Hispanics view the story of Texas history as their story, including the Texas Revolution, the Alamo, along with the image of the Lone Star State as a beacon of liberty and freedom. While all recognize that Texas has very dark chapters in our history, Texas Hispanics don’t buy the narrative put out in a book last year by a Democrat operative and a couple of reporters that Texas history is a lie.

When South Texas trended largely toward Donald Trump in the 2020 election, flipping a half-dozen counties from blue to red, Texas political watchers finally recognized that Texas Hispanics cannot reliably be counted on as part of the left-leaning progressive base. As my colleague Rafa Bajar recently pointed out, the TPPF survey clearly shows that whether they live in the Rio Grande Valley or elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Hispanics in Texas say they are mostly conservative or moderate on most issues.

This trend has been showing up in Hispanic voting trends in Texas for at least a decade. In 2014, South Texas Hispanics soundly rejected then-Sen. Wendy Davis in the Democrat gubernatorial primary. Davis,’ only claim to fame is a pro-abortion filibuster against a bill that passed a few weeks later. She has just had a movie released about the failed filibuster, but South Texas Hispanics gave her a thumbs down from the beginning. Reynoldo Madrigal, an unknown who was running against Davis for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, beat Davis in 20 South Texas counties even though she had spent millions and he spent nothing.

According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, Davis’ favorability rating among Hispanics was only 19% back then and in June of 2014, Hispanics picked Gov. Greg Abbott over Davis as the better leader on taxes by 10 points.

Granted, 40% of Hispanics voted for Davis that year, but compare that with the almost 80% of African Americans who voted for her and you can see the huge Hispanic gap in the Texas liberal base. Abbott trounced Davis by 20 points in 2014.

Last month, the same poll found that only 21% of Texas Hispanics had a very favorable view of the current Democrat candidate, Beto O’Rourke, the same amount as view him unfavorably. Only 42% say they plan to vote for O’Rourke in November, but again, compare that to the 62% of African American Texans who say they will vote for him.

In 2017, two-thirds of Texas Hispanics told UT pollsters that they do not believe there is a right to an abortion in the U.S. Constitution—a statement that is heresy for liberals and progressives.

Another heretical statement for the left is the views of Hispanic Texans when it comes to school choice. TPPF’s survey did not phrase this hot-button question ambiguously. They asked: Do you support or oppose the concept of school choice if it gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to whatever school, public, charter or private school that best serves their needs? The results: 78% said yes and only 16% said no.

School choice is anathema among even moderate Democrats, but Hispanic Texans put the well-being, success, and happiness of their children above the woke and anti-parent agenda of the teacher’s unions.

Support for their children is also clear in the findings of a study released last fall, which found that 64% of Texas Hispanics support banning boys from girls’ sports, rejecting another Democrat platform plank.

Hispanic Texans have also rejected the woke agenda being pushed by the left including the anti-family effort that drives the push for Critical Race Theory in public school curriculums along with the so-called gender identity movement. These attacks on parents’ rights and traditional family values are both planks in the radical left-wing platform.

In the run-up to November 2022, liberal activists are scrambling to figure out why Texas Hispanics are not reliable Democrat voters in the same way that African Americans are. One answer maybe have emerged last week as part of Gallup’s annual World Happiness Poll. Gallup pollsters found that a key factor for those who report happiness is a strong family and multigenerational environment. According to them, that’s why most Latin American countries are among the top 50 happiest countries, despite poverty in the Central and South America regions.

Strong multigenerational families are also part of the Texas Hispanic culture. Liberal progressives will not be successful in reversing Hispanic voting trends in Texas as long as they push anti-family initiatives and anti-Texas rhetoric.

One final note to progressives and the Texas media—97% of Texas Hispanics reject the silly woke term, “Latinx”—so you might want to stop using it.


Early Returns: No ‘Voter Suppression’ in Texas

Despite the hair-on-fire, gnashing of teeth and general screaming from Texas liberals about the end of democracy over last year’s election reforms bill—Senate Bill 1—last Tuesday’s primary election largely went off without a hitch.

There were some cherry-picked media reports and sanctimonious statements from the left insisting that some people who wanted to vote by mail were not able to because it was necessary to put either your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number on your ballot.

But according to the Texas Secretary of State, fully 95 percent of Texas’ 17 million plus registered voters already have both their drivers’ license and their last 4 digits on their voter registration, so it really wasn’t a problem for most voters.

There was a drop in mail-in ballots, but not because Democrat votes were being “suppressed.” About the same number of Democrats cast their ballots by mail this year as they did in the last gubernatorial election in 2018.  The folks who said no to mail-in ballots this cycle were Republicans. In the top 15 counties, Republicans who voted by mail dropped by 40%. Safe to say it’s unlikely those driving the voter suppression conspiracy will go looking for ways to ensure more Republicans vote.

Not that there weren’t election incidents.

In Harris County, a voter posted a video of an election judge telling a Republican that he couldn’t vote at the polling place he visited. It was only for Democrats. Similar incidents occurred in several places across the state because, despite what Democrats insisted during the debate over Senate Bill 1, it is difficult to find volunteers to serve as election judges.

But by in large, another election has passed and the left-wing, media-driven voter conspiracy theories have not panned out.

In fact, 6,000 Harris County Democrats and 4,000 Republicans can thank Senate Bill 1 for ensuring their votes will be counted this year. Because the Secretary of State’s office is now required to reconcile the number of votes cast in every county with the actual ballot count, they were able to let Harris County officials know that its ballot count was 10,072 short.  The ballots were identified and those votes are being counted now.

Ever since Photo Voter ID was passed in Texas in 2011, Democrats have insisted that Republican-backed laws to require standard identification was an effort to suppress the vote of Democrats—minorities, people of color and poor people—who they think are voting for them.

There is a big problem with their theory: math.

Voter turnout has skyrocketed since photo voter ID passed. In 2012, 7.9 million people voted. In 2020, 11.1 million voted—a 40% increase. Gubernatorial election turnout in Texas increased by 76% since Photo Voter ID passed. In 2012, about 58.6% of registered Texans voted and in 2020, 66.7% voted.

Voter ID is also popular. More than 80% of all Texans, which includes Democrats, support ensuring the common-sense requirement that people prove they are who they say they are in order to vote.

But don’t expect facts to get in the way of the left pushing voter suppression conspiracy theories. What else have they got?

On Tuesday, almost 900,000 more Republicans voted than Democrats. This fact alone does not bode well for Democrat prospects in November, although they never seem to try to figure out why they are losing. Those on the left just don’t understand that as long as they keep putting up anti-business, tax raising, pro-abortion, anti-gun candidates who hate the oil and gas industry, want open borders and support boys playing girls sports, the majority of Texans are not going to vote for them.

This is the same party that shut down the Texas House by decamping to Washington D.C. last summer in order to protest the election reforms that the majority of Texans supported—and were successfully implemented last week.

Despite their threats, there was no election meltdown. Last spring, 95% of Texas voters told a Texas Association of Business Pollster that it is “easy to vote” in Texas. They undoubtedly still feel that way.


Sarah Palin Didn’t Fire a Shot – and Nobody Died for the Dow

Ever since the Johns Hopkins report came out the other week, I have been waiting for headlines across the country to appear saying “Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was Right.”  Lockdowns had virtually no impact on COVID-19 deaths or infection rates.

On March 23, 2020, Lt. Gov. Patrick told Tucker Carlson on Fox News that as a person in the high-risk age group for Covid, he did not believe the country should sacrifice the economy or imperil the future of our grandchildren to protect seniors like himself by locking down. He made it clear he was only speaking for himself, and he repeatedly advocated seniors take every step necessary to protect themselves from exposure. But he said he was more afraid of the collapse of the economy than he was of dying. He told Tucker he’d spoken with other older Americans who agreed with him.

It only took minutes for the media and the left to accuse Lt. Gov. Patrick of telling older Americans that they should sacrifice their health or even die to keep businesses open. Media and the left across Texas and the rest of the country—and even in Europe—lambasted him, insisting that he’d said that old people should be sacrificed for the economy. They shortened the message to “Die for the Dow,” and it trended on Twitter. At the same time, the very same media was effusively praising then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was actually killing old people with his pandemic strategies.   

We are still calculating the costs of shutting down the economy—beyond killing businesses and putting millions out of work. Staggering suicide rates, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, delayed medical tests and treatments and the devastating impact on our schools and children are all part of the fallout from lockdowns that we now know were totally unnecessary.      

The media should have been asking the questions Johns Hopkins asked in its lockdown analysis from the first day the orders were proposed, but they didn’t. Instead, they presented Patrick and other leaders who opposed lockdowns as insensitive and hateful. President Joe Biden even accused lockdown opponents of “Neanderthal thinking.”  

So now the data shows that Lt. Gov. Patrick was right, who holds the media accountable? Judging from what happened at the trial last week, when former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sued the New York Times, it looks like nobody. 

Like Lt. Gov. Patrick, the media accused Palin of being responsible for killing people. In 2017, after Congressman Steve Scalise and several other Republicans were shot playing baseball in Washington, D.C., the New York Times wrote an editorial headlined America’s Lethal Politics charging that Palin was at least partially responsible for the shooting:  

In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

The Times deleted the line “the link to political incitement was clear” pretty quickly, and later it was forced to admit that the shooter had never seen the graphic in Palin’s PAC map. A recent report by the Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman notes that the paper admits its work was sloppy. It also said it had a policy to never apologize for errors. 

 That’s it. The official response from the national newspaper of record was to shrug it off with a “my bad.”  

Editorial Page Editor James Bennett said he hadn’t meant to imply that Palin had incited violence. 

So, in addition to the “my bad” shrug, the editor told the court that he didn’t really mean what he wrote. But the New York Times didn’t actually back down. Its editorial still suggests Palin, somehow, was responsible for the shooting; it just can’t prove it. Here’s what the “corrected” editorial that is posted online now says about it:

Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map that showed the targeted electoral districts of Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established. 

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff called the Times editorial an “honest mistake,” and he says he plans to throw the case out after the jury returns. 

 But, of course, it wasn’t honest and it wasn’t a mistake. The media routinely uses tactics like this to demonize individual conservatives. They use various forms of lying—hyperbole, twisting words, exaggeration, taking statements out of context or simply making things up. If they can concoct a charge that involves people being killed, that’s even better. 

National Public Radio (NPR) icon Nina Tottenberg reported recently that conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch refused to put on a mask when liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayer asked him too. The story noted that since Sotomayer has co-morbidities and is at a high risk for COVID-19, Gorsuch’s actions could kill her. However, both Gorsuch and Sotomayer issued a statement saying it wasn’t true. Obviously, Tottenberg either made it up or she published something she hadn’t confirmed. NPR is standing by the story. Apparently it has a “no apology” policy too.

 Palin is expected to appeal the judge’s decision to dismiss the case, but no one expects the New York Times to admit she was right, just like the media will never report that Lt. Gov. Patrick was right to oppose lockdowns early in the pandemic. It is ironic that the media calls challenges to the 2020 election “the Big Lie” when clearly, those in the media are the big liars, whether it be through their attacks on conservatives or conservative issues.

Here are just a few of the facts they continue to misreport. Photo Voter ID doesn’t suppress the vote. Turnout has increased since it passed.  Banning critical race theory doesn’t prohibit teaching about slavery and racism, it requires it. School choice isn’t for rich kids, it’s for poor kids, a proven way of obtaining better performance outcomes. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the media to report those facts. And don’t ever expect them to apologize when they lie.       

 TPPF’s Distinguished Senior Fellow Sherry Sylvester, has spent decades working at the nexus of public policy and politics. She began as a left-leaning Democrat on the East Coast but years of working closely with progressives pushed her to the right. After two decades in Texas, she is a committed to Keeping Texas Texan — a beacon of freedom and liberty, a center of innovation, and a major force in the global economy. Coming off a 17-year stint working around the Texas Capitol, including 7 years as Senior Advisor to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, 9th & Congress, presents her insights and updates on politics, policy, the news and history.

 In case you missed Sherry’s op-ed on the New York Times’ 1619 Project – America’s History is Not Black and White – you can read it here: 

Sherry’s op-ed on the transgender attack on women’s rights, you can read it here: Women’s Rights & Trans Rights 

George Wallace, Bull Connor, Jefferson Davis & Me

The outrage over President Joe Biden’s ridiculous comments in Georgia last month lingers. Condemning those who oppose a federal takeover of state elections as racist was not a gaff. He was reading from a speech, which means that both the president and his team believe that the strong majorities of Texans in both parties who oppose federalizing elections are choosing the side of white supremacist segregationists like former Alabama Governor George Wallace, notorious Birmingham Sheriff Bull Connor and even Jefferson Davis, over Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. We rarely get a clearer statement of how little the progressive left knows about the American people.

There’s no shortage of Democrats who go around saying their conservative opponents are racists. We hear it from the media all the time, but somehow, it was more appalling to hear it coming from the White House. For those who remember who Wallace and Connor were, this insult is unforgivable.

The civil rights battles of the 1960s changed America and impacted everyone who lived through them. They didn’t end racism or hate, but Wallace and Connor did not win. Instead, we Americans who lived during those times know that while the country is not perfect, it is profoundly better and more embracing of difference and diversity. Everyone has their own story. Here’s mine.

I attended segregated schools in Oklahoma until my last couple of years in high school. There were only a few black families in the very small town where I grew up and their children were bused to an integrated school in the next town, seven miles away. Ironically, it was a bigger and better school than the one in our town, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a stigma to being bused out. It was always an awkward discussion when my sister and I were playing with the African-American girls who lived near us as to why they didn’t go to our school. I recall them saying little and just looking away.

My parents supported keeping the schools segregated, but they didn’t march or protest. My father was the mayor of the tiny town where I grew up. He was a veteran of the Great Depression and World War II and taking it to the streets on any issue was not in his DNA. He didn’t like marches.

While Bull Connor, the fat, hate-filled Alabama sheriff, became a symbol for violent white supremacy in Birmingham, my school was integrated with little fanfare. The girls we played with had moved away and there was only one mixed race boy in town who attended.
He was several years younger than me and I don’t recall ever talking to him, but I know his time wasn’t easy. He was being raised by a single mother and there was lots of speculation about the identity of his father, who was presumably white.

He played football—though he was not a star—and I recall hearing some kids making jokes about his skin color in yearbook photos. But the jokers were viewed as ignorant by the cool kids. I never saw a teacher tolerate any bullying or mistreatment, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We still prayed a lot in public schools in those days and although the country and our town was bitterly divided over integration, we were never allowed to forget that meanness and hateful behavior are not Christian. Looking at old yearbooks, it appears he left town before he graduated.

I never heard my father echo George Wallace’s cry for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” but Wallace was a Democrat, like my father, and shared a hatred for the Northeast elites who were running the country. Wallace ran for president a number of times and I recall my Dad supporting him, at least for a while, in one of his bids. During those same years, Biden bragged about his friendship with Wallace and accepted an award from him in 1973. Wallace’s last run for the White House was in 1976, when my Dad was backing Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter.

A few years later, Dad threw his support behind Jesse Jackson’s presidential effort, both in 1984 and 1988. Dad told me that Jackson was the only candidate who was speaking for working people. The Democrats should have listened to my Dad. Jackson came in second in the 1988 primary that Michael Dukakis won—and it was a disaster for them.

I recall pointing out to my Dad at the time that he’d gone from being a Wallace Democrat to being a Jackson Democrat, but he didn’t think it was particularly notable.

My father detested Reagan and the Bushes. He voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. I had no luck convincing him to vote Republican either time and, had he lived, I am confident there is nothing I could have said that would have kept him from voting for Obama and celebrating the election of the first Black president.

Seeing this change up close in my family—and in the communities where I lived—makes me very skeptical of concepts like “systematic racism” and “structural discrimination” that comprise the phony premise of critical race theory.

My father was not unique. Most Americans—not all—have changed their thinking about race and so many other things, since the 1960s. Do hate and racism still exist? Absolutely. But is half of the country racist as Biden implied? No.

Perhaps the most heinous accusation Biden made in Georgia was suggesting those who disagree with him on a federal election takeover are on the side of Jefferson Davis, the traitorous former president of the rebellious confederate states who led the charge to take up arms in revolt against the union. What a hateful and irresponsible thing to say.

My Dad did not know Jefferson Davis, of course, but like many who fought in World War II, he was the grandson of a Civil War veteran. His grandfather fought on the Union side, coming in with the troops behind Sherman for the occupation of Atlanta. The Civil War was not distant history for him, it was family history.

Biden’s “Wallace, Connor, Davis” statement may be a fatal blow to Democrats because everybody has stories like this. People like me remember what the country was like in the 1960s, compared to what America is like today. We know what “voter suppression” looks like and we know that it is not requiring a photo ID to vote or a signature on your mail-in ballot, actions that have broad support among all Americans, including Latinos and African Americans.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Biden’s federal election takeover bill failed. It is hard to know why Biden pushed so hard for legislation that so many Americans oppose. The President’s sanctimonious preaching about Jim Crow 2.0, suggesting that nothing has changed in America since the civil rights movement or even the Civil War destroyed whatever shred of credibility he had left. Most Americans already know Biden has to go, but whoever wrote that speech for him should be fired now. 

For Texas,


Thomas Jefferson statue removed from New York City Hall

New York City hauled the 884-pound statue of Thomas Jefferson out of City Hall recently because city leaders said the statue “shouldn’t exist” and that Jefferson should be forgotten. I can understand New York progressives forgetting that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence but it is surprising that they don’t remember that this Founding Father also brokered the deal that made New York City the financial capital of the nation. Didn’t they see Hamilton?

New York City does dumb things like this routinely and I bet most New Yorkers have just about had enough of it. I lived in New York City in another lifetime and I have seen this movie before. Even the names of some of the characters are the same.

In the 1980’s New York City was overrun with crime—murder, robbery, and drugs. The filthy streets stank, the city was broke—taxes were high and services were non-existent.

I came to New York City as a left-wing liberal, what we would call a progressive today, and the people running the city were people I knew and agreed with.

Mario Cuomo, father to former Gov. Andrew and infamous former CNN Host Chris, was governor. The Democratic majority of voters who elected him were very upset about all the crime. To demonstrate that he wasn’t a bleeding heart, Cuomo imposed mandatory sentences for drug users. His move didn’t solve the drug problem, but it did fill up the prisons, so he built a lot of new prisons all over the state. Most of them were many hours from New York City, making it virtually impossible for families to visit incarcerated family members. Cutting off family connections made rehabilitation almost impossible.

I started working for a liberal prison reform group shortly after I arrived in New York City and I soon got a call from the New York Times asking for a comment on Cuomo’s criminal justice policies. I told the newspaper Cuomo’s mandatory sentencing and prison policies were costing the state and the city millions and not making a dent in the crime problem.

By the time I got back to my office, it was reported to me that then-Gov. Cuomo had called the chairman of the board of the group I worked for and asked him “who the f***” I thought I was.”

My colleagues just shrugged and apologized—to the governor, not to me. I was pulled aside and told bluntly that Gov. Cuomo was a bully and it was not wise to cross him.

Sound familiar?

Long-time New York City Mayor Ed Koch, was popular but his tirades and narcissism—including his on-going tabloid war with Donald Trump—had gotten old for most New Yorkers. The City’s problems—the crime, the taxes, the waste and the mismanagement—had become chronic. People were exhausted by it.

David Dinkins was a low-energy politician and there was no evidence that he had a plan to change things, but he was somebody new and that was enough to convince people he represented change. At a minimum, he was calm and soft-spoken and I knew he would lower the noise level in City Hall, so I went to work on his campaign. After Dinkins beat Koch, I took a job in his administration.

But a change in tone wasn’t enough. New York City only got worse. In addition to bankruptcy, the City was experiencing four simultaneous epidemics—AIDS, low-birthweight babies, asthma and tuberculosis. Crime and homelessness skyrocketed, hospitals and public schools were both failing, the city bureaucracy was riddled with corruption and New Yorkers were walking the streets every day barraged by homeless people who were living on streets littered with garbage bags.

Finally, it got so bad that the unthinkable happened—New York City elected a Republican mayor. Then as now, there were barely enough registered Republicans in New York City to make a blip on a chart, but Rudy Giuliani, the GOP U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, defeated Dinkins’ re-election bid.

New Yorkers had finally had enough and they were tired of hearing Dinkins and Cuomo say that they only way things could get better would be higher taxes and a massive federal bailout.

Like every New Yorker, I noticed a difference almost immediately after Giuliani took office. The garbage was picked up and street crime dramatically declined. He privatized the hospitals (which had been city owned) and they got the epidemics under control. You could walk down the street without being accosted by panhandlers. Police reforms finally began without creating a union war. Zero-tolerance policies were controversial, but they worked.

Giuliani’s transformation of the city changed a generation of New Yorkers. They were still Democrats but they didn’t elect another Democrat to lead the city until the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, took office.

I am sure it is not lost on older New Yorkers that the same problems they had with Koch and Dinkins returned with de Blasio. That’s undoubtedly why they rejected progressive mayoral candidates this fall and instead elected a retired police officer, Eric Adams.

It wasn’t lost on me either. People often ask me how I became a movement conservative after years working as a progressive Democrat. While there was never a “road to Damascus” moment, seeing the turnaround that occurred in New York City under conservative leadership created some huge cracks in my liberal ideology.

When I see so many great American cities today, like San Francisco and Austin, that are being ruined by liberal policies, I recall what happened in New York and it gives me hope.

When the failure of left-wing progressive policies are in your face everyday—when they’ve wasted your tax dollars, ruined your downtown, mismanaged services, and told you to do stupid things like forget Thomas Jefferson, ultimately voters who will finally say “enough!” We’re beginning to see some changes across the country and I am betting we are going to see more.

For Texas,


TPPF’s Distinguished Senior Fellow Sherry Sylvester, has spent decades working at the nexus of public policy and politics. She began as a decidedly left-leaning Democrat on the East Coast but years of working closely with the left-wing pushed her to the right. After two decades in Texas, she is a committed to Keeping Texas Texan — a beacon of freedom and liberty, a center of innovation, and a major force in the global economy. Coming off a 17-year stint working around the Texas Capitol, including 7 years as Senior Advisor to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, 9th & Congress, presents her insights and updates on politics, policy, the news and history


Women’s Rights v. Trans Rights: Where Are the Feminists?

In the successful fight to pass Senate Bill 3 in Texas protecting girls’ sports, conservatives were repeatedly told by their opponents on the left that we were tilting at windmills. Trans men were no threat to female sports, we were assured; the legislation we were pushing was a “solution in search of a problem.” Conservatives who pushed to protect sports for women and girls were accused of being transphobic. 

But ask girl swimmers in Pennsylvania what they think about the recently transitioned person who is shattering women’s records in the Keystone State. 

In 2019, when conservatives were working to pass privacy legislation to ensure that boys would not be permitted to enter girls’ restrooms in public schools, leftists and the media again insisted that we were provincial prudes. When Texas state senator and former NCAA champion athlete Lois Kolkhorst declared the bathroom battle “the women’s rights issue of our time,” almost no Texas media outlet reported it. The media ignored dozens of reports of women being attacked by men in public restrooms and changing rooms in Texas.

Similarly, the media ignored what helped spark a triumph of parental rights in the Virginia gubernatorial election. A girl was raped in a school restroom by a boy wearing a skirt.  School officials said that they didn’t know whether to confront him because he might have been a “trans” person. 

In Texas, our legislation to protect sports for women and girls is described by the media as “disqualifying” of boys rather than affirming girls. News reports say that the bill “excludes” those who say that they are girls – instead of noting that the bill protects actual girls.

Which brings me to my question: Where are the feminists? Having fought in the second wave of women’s rights in the 1970s, I do not understand why today’s American women’s movement has been so quick to give those hard-won rights away – to say, essentially, that if a male is suffering from gender dysphoria and thinks that he’s a girl or woman, we should just go along with that. 

Body dysphoria leads to life-threatening bulimia and other diseases, but gender dysphoria should be enabled, even encouraged – at least, according to the left, which believes that parents should be permitted to authorize life- and body-changing hormone treatments, and even surgery, for their children, not recognizing that these actions are irreversible and clearly child abuse. This is a horrible disservice to the victims of gender dysphoria. It is also a setback for women’s rights.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has joined with many European feminists in stepping up and saying the obvious: that sex is a real, biological fact. It is scientifically certifiable, not something that is arbitrarily “assigned” at birth and written on one’s birth certificate. Rowling has attracted the ire of the trans movement because she dared to question the terms “people who have a cervix,” “people who menstruate,” or “people who can become pregnant” as substitutes for the word “women.” 

Similarly, a left-wing British MP, Rosie Duffield, has drawn a line in the sand. Duffield is saying what many feminists have apparently been afraid to say: that most men are stronger than most women. Too often, that reality can be a threat to women. We ought to be able to go to the restroom – where, unlike men, we must partially undress – without being afraid.

Which brings us back to the swimmer who just smashed all the women’s swimming records in Pennsylvania. Texans know that this is unfair, and they don’t want any part of it. 

A full 58% of Texans strongly support legislation that would require high school and middle school students to compete in sports associated with their biological sex. This includes 75% of whites, 64% of Latinos, and 63% of African-Americans. It includes almost half of Democrats, over 90% of Republicans, and 73% of Independents. And while 82% of my generation – the Baby Boomers – support the legislation, so do 63% of Millennials, 69% of Gen Xers, and 54% of Generation Z. 

Back in the 1970s, a battle cry for many of us in the women’s movement was that “the personal is the political.” I’ve long abandoned that motto, but in this case, it has some relevance, as we are watching our rights as women being given away to men. On this issue and many others, Texas conservatives are standing up for women, but I ask, again: Where are the feminists?

Sherry Sylvester is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former senior adviser to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.


Critical race theory bans protect our history and students

If the public had been largely unaware of the pervasiveness of critical race theory in America’s public schools, the shock waves of Virginia’s election have made sure people, particularly parents, are now paying attention.

The Texas Legislature joined several other states and passed an anti-CRT bill earlier this year. To fight back, proponents of the controversial concept have scrambled to downplay its impact and launch attacks against efforts to ban it in schools.

An overwrought editorial in the Houston Chronicle is typical of these assaults on CRT bans. Opponents claim that the legislation frightens teachers into teaching a whitewashed history of America. But this is factually and demonstrably untrue. If only they would read the bill.

The items some claim won’t be taught in Texas schools, such as the evils of slavery and the role of government in upholding that unholy institution, are taught because state law specifically mandates that they be taught.

The new Texas rule on critical race theory, House Bill 3979, not only doesn’t ban teaching facts, but it reinforces that our full and accurate history, scars and all, should be taught. Specifically, the bill states that students should understand “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

Opponents of the law claim it says students should never feel “discomfort” from learning that, for example, Texas hero Jim Bowie owned slaves. Therefore, teaching this fact would be banned.

What the new rule actually says is that “a teacher … may not … require or make part of a course that … an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” In other words, teachers can teach history, but they can’t require students to feel guilt as a condition of passing the class.

The teachings of CRT go beyond simply learning America’s history and, in fact, require white people to accept blame for all economic and social disparities experienced by people of color today.

That is what is being banned by the CRT bill — and for good reason.

Not only does CRT discriminate against white people, but it hurts minorities, too. It forces young black and Hispanic children to accept they will always be victims and that under our current system, there is nothing they can do to improve their lot in life. It also advocates lowered standards for minorities and strips them of agency. Teaching CRT is not just unconstitutional — it is demonstrably false and cruelly immoral. CRT has no place in our schools.

As for the laughable lie that CRT isn’t found in schools, of course it is . What’s more, liberals are demanding more CRT in public schools, and they want parents to shut up about it.

The new law protects speech, debate, and the free flow of ideas. It prevents students from being forced to accept controversial theories as a condition for advancement. And it helps empower parents to address and correct these illegal and unconstitutional activities in their schools.

On one thing, at least, we are in full agreement with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board: “Hard facts about race and racism, about our flawed heroes or about our inability over the years to live up to our ideals of freedom, equality and justice are part of the Texas story. They’re not the only part, by a long shot, but a well-educated Texan needs to know them.”

We are sure, then, that members of that board will be relieved that those things are taught in Texas schools and will continue to be. If they have any questions, they can read the text of the bill itself .

Sherry Sylvester is a distinguished senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a former senior adviser to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Carol Swain is the distinguished senior fellow for constitutional studies at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and co-author of Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House.