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2017-18 The University of Texas at Austin

As the bathroom bill was moving through the Texas legislature, Mack Beggs, a seventeen-year-old transgender high-school student from Euless, Texas, won the girls’ state wrestling championship, in the hundred-and-ten-pound weight class. He had been taking testosterone supplements as he transitioned to male, and he had won fifty-six matches in a row. Although he wants to wrestle boys—“because I’m a guy,” he told ESPN—the University Interscholastic League, which oversees the athletic programs in Texas public schools, recently adopted a rule that requires wrestling opponents to have the same sex listed on their birth certificates.

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Across Texas, school districts and chambers of commerce seemed resigned to accept the amendment. In Straus’s opinion, it codified a reasonable practice that many schools had already adopted. Still, there was fierce opposition in the House from Democrats who saw it as appeasement. Representative Rafael Anchia, of Dallas, reminded the other members that, since they had begun debating the bathroom issue, in January, ten transgender people had been violently killed in the U.S. He read their names aloud.

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Many residents of Austin don’t mind its image as a lonely liberal outpost. I’m part of a group that puts up statues in Austin, and our most recent work was a bronze replica of Willie Nelson. At Nelson’s request, it was unveiled, in 2012, on April 20th—National Marijuana Day. He stood in front of his giant likeness and sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

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This tirade was apparently triggered by a local ordinance that requires a permit to cut down a “heritage tree”—one whose trunk diameter exceeds nineteen inches. When Abbott was attorney general and living in Austin, he was infuriated when he had to compensate the city before cutting down a pecan tree that stood in the way of his future swimming pool.

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The exhausted Democrats and Republicans made a deal: the Democrats agreed to provide only nominal opposition to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which was going to happen in any case; in return, the bathroom amendment was pulled from consideration. Other controversial amendments were placed in Article 11 of the budget, a kind of wish list of things to be debated in the future. Legislators call Article 11 “the graveyard.” But in the Texas legislature the dead have been known to walk.

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I left before the budget was passed, long after my bedtime. By dawn, it was clear that Dan Patrick and the Tea Party had suffered one defeat after another in Joe Straus’s House. Earlier in the session, Patrick had demanded an up-or-down vote on subsidizing tuition for private schools, and it was crushed, 103–44. A proposal to “zero out” money for the Texas Commission on the Arts was brushed aside.

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At the rear microphone stood Drew Springer, a Republican from North Texas, whose district—twice the size of Maryland—is copiously supplied with wild pigs. He proposed attaching an amendment to Stickland’s amendment. It would cut nine hundred thousand dollars in funds for roads and highways—the same amount as the hog-abatement program—but only in Stickland’s home town. The measure passed, with undisguised enthusiasm. Stickland pulled his amendment down, but then charged toward Springer. They met in the middle of the chamber, nose to nose. Stickland is known to carry a concealed weapon, so I was a little worried. But other members separated the men, and Straus reluctantly gavelled the House to order.