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Gail Collins: How Texas Hijacked the American Agenda

The New York Times columnist discusses her new book, "As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda."

A native Ohioan, Gail Collins says her fascination with Texas began when she heard Gov. Rick Perry deliver an Alamo-like speech at a 2009 Tea Party rally. "We didn't like oppression then; we don't like oppression now," he roared. The problem was, says Collins, "this was a rally about the stimulus package." 

Collins' new book is titled As Texas Goes...: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (Liveright Publishing/W. W. Norton & Company). The first woman editor of the New York Times’ editorial page, she is also author of America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines and When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. Now a columnist at the Times, Collins is known for unshrinking criticism of the gun lobby, small-minded politicians and discrimination against women. While covering the 2012 election, Collins reminded readers that Mitt Romney had crated the family dog and strapped it to the roof of the Romney's car during a family vacation. The reference appeared 68 times. 

AlterNet recently had the chance to talk to her about her newest book, secession, the Alamo, and Rick Perry.

Martha Rosenberg: In As Texas Goes you debut the concept of people who live in "empty places" versus "crowded places" and say they don't feel the need for laws to deal with everyday intrusions like neighbors. How is this different from the rural/urban concept?

Gail Collins: It is more a mentality than the actual places people live as Jefferson and Hamilton would argue about-- city versus country . For example, someone could have an empty place mentality yet be living in a condo in Boca Raton. Of course, Texas is so huge it really is empty places; people can easily drive a hour and a half to work every day, so even if they’re actually living in the suburbs it sure feels as if they’re in a remote location.

MR: Is Texas' size part of the reason for the resistance you cite in the book to environmentalism and the threat of climate change?

GC: Certainly people in empty places feel they have the right to do what they want to their property and don't necessarily see the effect of their pollution or pesticides on others. But Texans have an appreciation for water problems and are very aware of the droughts. I write about how in Midland, the mayor instituted water conservation measures like restrictions on car washing. He made a point though that they were only "suggestions" and not government telling people what to do. But then his constituents got very ticked off at the sight of their neighbors breaking the rules and demanded that they be made into actual laws with penalties.

MR: Many Texas politicians do not come across too well in As Texas Goes, especially Rick Perry, the current governor and a presidential candidate over the summer. Did he really "name" his boots Freedom and Liberty?

GC: Yes.

MR: Did he really reply when asked by the Texas Tribune's Evan Smith for actual statistics proving abstinence reduces teen pregnancy, "I'm sorry, I'm going to tell you from my own personal life. Abstinence works."

GC: Yes.

MR: Did Perry really vote against legislation that would have kept farm workers out of the fields while the fields were being sprayed with pesticides?

GC: Yes, but the owners argued that they could work out their own plans for protecting the workers, not that they intended to spray them.

MR: That's a relief. The conflicts of interest you cite in the book between government and industry are shocking, like the former lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council, Ralph Marquez, becoming the Texas Natural Resources Commissioner. "At the time," you write, the Council's members were "responsible for 74 percent of all EPA-tracked toxic chemical emissions in the state, 98 percent of the toxic water pollution, and 67 percent of the toxic air pollution."

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