Musings: Vast Conspiracies

by | May 17, 2021 | Musings, Opinion

If, like me, you’ve been in the unenviable position of reviewing footage of Briscoe Cain, the Republican state representative who chairs the House Elections Committee and author of one of the most far-reaching voter suppression bills since Jim Crow, you may have been faced with a terrifying question.

“Does he even know what’s in the bill?” 

It’s a question I’ve asked myself, aloud and rhetorically, and one that I’ve bounced back and forth with contacts working in the legislature. Unlike many of the most head-scratching questions a session in the Texas legislature always seems to raise, there is broad consensus on a simple answer.

No. No, he does not.

And how could that be? How could the chair of one of the most important committees have authored legislation without seeming to have a firm grasp of the contents of their own bill, or the Texas election code they seek to alter? 

And then, on Thursday, it finally became clear with one simple sentence that Cain didn’t even utter.

“We did it quickly, and we did it quietly.”

That phrase has been stuck in my mind for days, and for once it has nothing to do with my lifelong enjoyment of heist and gangster films. Those words weren’t whispered across a dimly lit table by a soulless hitman or a skilled diamond thief. They came from the lips of Jessica Anderson, the executive director of an organization called Heritage Action for America, an affiliate of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

In a bombshell exclusive from Mother Jones, reporters Ari Berman and Nick Surgey were able to unearth footage of Anderson that was captured during a closed-door meeting of prominent conservative donors in which Anderson, who has been building a reputation as a talking head on conservative television for her willingness to propagate the Big Lie about election fraud, claimed full credit for her organization drafting the voter suppression laws introduced in both Georgia and Texas, two states absolutely central to the Republican plan to disenfranchise voters of color in emerging swing states.

In the video, Anderson mentions several ways that the Heritage network has worked to influence the framework for the legislation passed in Georgia and Texas, going so far as to say that they offer a list of “best practices” to state legislators authoring the bills and that they even send sample versions of the bills for lawmakers to work off of.

This type of coordinated national action is the type of thing progressives have warned about for years. Their concerns were easy to dismiss any time the content of their complaints started to sound more like conspiracy theories, but this is just the latest example of a shadowy national network working to influence policy at a high level in individual states. It just happens to be the most openly nefarious.

Just two years ago, progressive groups and activists in Texas protested the presence of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, during their national convention in Austin. ALEC works to advance bills that are friendly to corporate interests and received national attention for their ability to pass cookie-cutter bills in multiple states to support their work.

What Heritage Action, the dark money sidecar to the better known Heritage Foundation and their nine-figure endowment, is doing is fundamentally different and somehow more frightening than corporate influence in our politics. 

The bills Heritage Action has been advancing aren’t for the benefit of corporations filling their coffers. They’re designed solely to help Republicans continue to win elections and to disenfranchise communities more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. It’s racially-motivated voter suppression, plain and simple.

And Briscoe Cain and Texas Republicans are all for it. They’ve deployed the same copy-and-paste strategy they’ve been able to get away with in the past, hoping it would escape notice. 

And that’s what Anderson is betting on. She even bragged in that leaked video that she managed to escape detection while influencing the Georgia bills.

“Honestly, nobody noticed.”

With the voter suppression bills likely to face another floor vote in the coming days when a conference committee hashes out the differences between the House and Senate bills, there has never been a more important time to send a message that we, as Texans, noticed, and that we won’t tolerate any attempts to turn our state into Jim Crow 2.0.

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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