I keep a bumper sticker next to my desk that reads, “Don’t mess with Texas.”
I grew up in San Antonio hearing that mantra and seeing it on T-shirts, mugs and cars. It reminds me of where I came from and where most of my relatives still live.
But sentimentality is not the only reason I placed that phrase where I could see it daily from my desk in a D.C. office building. I appreciate the message it offers. The slogan grew from an anti-littering campaign, but over time it came to represent pride, autonomy and a community’s willingness to stand together. It has become a blunt warning to not bring your mess, literal and figurative, into someone else’s house.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) no doubt knows that slogan well. Now, he just needs to follow his state’s advice.
On Wednesday, as reported by DCist, Cruz announced that he planned to introduce legislation aimed at overturning a coronavirus vaccine mandate for D.C. students. The mandate was approved by the D.C. Council in December and requires eligible students to be vaccinated by March. Enforcement will not begin until next school year.
“I’ll tell you, the District of Columbia, the school board, voted to force every child in D.C. to get vaccinated,” Cruz said Wednesday in an interview with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, incorrectly attributing the mandate to the school board. “I’m introducing this week legislation in the Senate to reverse that order. Under the Constitution, the District of Columbia is under the authority of Congress.”
“The school board has no right to force you to get your five year old vaccinated,” he continued. “If you want to vaccinate your kid, vaccinate your kid. But if you don’t want to, who are these petty authoritarians trying to make this decision for you? And sadly, it’s a pattern we’re seeing across the board.”
District officials forcefully fired back.
“Vaccines save lives,” D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) tweeted. “Vaccine requirements are common in school. Standing in the way with cases as high as they’ve ever been and with a clear difference between being vaxxed and not, is beyond reckless. One year after Jan 6, don’t you think you’ve done enough harm, Senator?”
“I hear they say ‘don’t mess with Texas,’” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) tweeted. “Same rule applies here: Keep your hands off DC. Deferring to local officials is a basic concept of federalism, a principle on which our country was founded.”
“Keep your hands off DC.” That won’t make for a good slogan, but it makes the point: Don’t mess with D.C.
In recent days, Cruz’s statement about D.C. schools was not the one that drew him the most heat. After he described the Jan. 6 insurrection as a “terrorist attack,” he became a target of criticism within his own party and later called his phrasing “sloppy” and “dumb” during an interview with Tucker Carlson.
Although that infighting gained plenty of national attention, Cruz’s vow to interfere with D.C. schools did not go unnoticed locally. It came during a week when snow in the D.C. region delayed the end of winter break for many students, offering a reprieve to school systems experiencing staffing shortages because of the surge in coronavirus infections and leaving parents juggling jobs and child care longer than they had anticipated.
As a working mom of two elementary-age kids, I was right there with other parents, trying to avoid omicron and checking my text messages to see if school officials planned to open their doors. Each time a message popped up saying schools would be closed the next day, my kids cheered and my husband and I rearranged our work schedules. We are fortunate to have jobs that allow us to do that. Many parents, grandparents and other caregivers don’t.
We are entering the third year of the pandemic, and many of us are still waiting for a return to normal. We can no longer do that when it comes to schools. Kids have already lost too much in these past few years. Pediatricians have declared the mental health crisis among children a national emergency. Think about what that means. Think about the weight a generation of kids is carrying during its formative years. Masks and vaccines, whether we like it or not, are how we keep schools open.
But even if you don’t agree with that, and I have relatives I love who don’t, we should at least be able to agree on this: In the same way that an elected official in California shouldn’t decide what’s best for a community in Louisiana, a lawmaker from Texas shouldn’t be making critical decisions for D.C. residents.
Not only pushback followed Cruz’s statement. So, too, did calls for D.C. statehood.
“The fact that a Senator from Texas can introduce a bill to overturn a local law … passed by the duly elected city council is just another reason for #DCStatehood,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) tweeted.
“The state he represents is 1,100+ miles away from D.C.,” wrote another person. “We need control over our own laws. We need #DCStatehood.”
“If there was ever any doubt that DC needs to become a state, look no further than the Dishonorable Invertebrate from Texas,” wrote yet another. “He will play politics with the lives of mostly BIPOC kids far from his home because he can. #DCStatehood.”
D.C. residents pay more federal taxes per capita than any state, and yet, they have no voting representation in Congress.
D.C. has a larger population than two states, and yet, the mayor doesn’t hold the power to activate the D.C. National Guard.
D.C. is filled with families that elected their local lawmakers, and yet, they have to worry that their children’s fate could be affected by a man who abandoned his state during an emergency to go to Cancún.
Like Texas, D.C. has a powerful slogan: End Taxation Without Representation.