Looking at 18 Years in the Rear View Mirror

Gwin Faulconer Lippert, KTOK Radio.

Gwin Faulconer Lippert, KTOK Radio.

 

Gwin Faulconer Lippert, a reporter at KTOK Radio, a local station here in Oklahoma City, did this interview with me last night. It’s a retrospective on my career in the legislature, which ends officially tomorrow.

I plan on taking my family out for Pizza at the Hideaway restaurant here in OKC. Just us. It’s about personal family memories.

I woke up this morning, thinking “this is my last day in office.” It kind of got to me. Then I sat down and prayed and God turned that bit of anxiety into peace and gratitude. I am so grateful that God gave me the chance to do two separate tours of duty in office. He let me come back in and pass important pro life legislation after I had killed pro life bills my first time around.

That is a measure of forgiveness that I do not deserve.

I am grateful and happy for the many privileges and gifts which God has given me in my life. My family, my home, the opportunity to affect events through public office, and now, the opportunity to continue working for the things I believe in another forum.

You wonderful people here at Public Catholic are among the many blessings God has given me.

I’m still on retreat for the rest of this month.

I am very glad I’ve taken this time off to pray and think. It has already given me a new outlook and a deeper understanding of where I’m going, and I’m only halfway through. I plan to come back to blogging in December. In the meantime, I’ll continue to drop an occasional link or thought here as things occur to me.

Blessings,

Rebecca

 

Rep. Rebecca Hamilton KTOK Interview

Human Rights/Social Justice Advocate Leaving Legislature After 18 Years

oklahoma-state-seal

November 12, 2014

 

 

Human Rights / Social Justice Advocate

Leaving Legislature After 18 Years

 

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton retires from the Legislature next week after 18 years of service during which she exhibited a bulldog’s tenacity on social issues such as abortion, domestic violence, abuse/protection of the elderly, and human trafficking.

“Throughout my legislative career I tried to do things that would give people a sense of hope and a brighter future,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.

Retirement doesn’t mean Hamilton is slowing down. She’ll just devote her time to various other projects.

She maintains a blog, Public Catholic, at Patheos, “the nation’s fastest-growing faith blogging site,” she said. She also is writing two books: one about the effect of abortion on America’s feminist movement, another that she described as a meditation. “After I finish them, I have more books in the pipeline,” she added.

Hamilton is one of only a few Oklahoma lawmakers to have served split terms in the Legislature. She was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980 and served three consecutive two-year terms before bowing out in 1986, while chair of the Public Health Committee.

Afterward she reared and home-schooled her two children; “did a turn” as Oklahoma director for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church; and volunteered at Birth Choice of Oklahoma, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

Sixteen years later, after her children were older, Hamilton campaigned for, and was elected to, the same House seat in southwestern Oklahoma City that she had previously occupied. She represented House District 89 for 12 more years before retiring this year because of compulsory term limits.

The Oklahoma City native once endorsed abortion, but became a pro-life champion after her religious conversion almost 30 years ago “while driving to Enid to give a speech,” she remembers vividly.

Hamilton authored the bill that “broke the 16-year logjam on pro-life legislation.” House Bill 1686 required informed consent prior to an abortion, and mandated parental notification before an abortion could be performed on a minor. The measure was signed into law on May 20, 2005.

Two years later Hamilton was the House sponsor of Senate Bill 139, which forbade state employees and resources from being used to perform an abortion that is not necessary to save the life of the mother, unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. That measure became law on May 24, 2007.

Hamilton also was the principal author in 2008 of House Bill 3059, which would have required an identifying sign to be posted at all facilities in Oklahoma where abortions are performed. The bill received a “do pass” recommendation from the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee but was never brought up for a vote by the full House.

Because of her anti-abortion stance, Oklahoma Democrats “came within 50 votes of censuring me” during the statewide convention at which delegates were picked for the 2008 national convention, she said.

Hamilton filed a handful of domestic-abuse measures while in the House, including the 1982 legislation that authorized protective orders. “This was considered outrageous back then,” she recalled. “Some people called me a Communist because of it.” House Bill 1828 cleared both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. George Nigh.

In one four-year period Hamilton authored or co-authored five House bills that proposed penalties for domestic abuse against pregnant women. Her House Bill 1897, which was introduced in 2007 but languished on the House calendar, was revived in 2008, passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Brad Henry.

In related matters, Hamilton was one of the six founders of the first rape crisis center established in Oklahoma, and, along with Catholic Charities and the YWCA, was a leader of the Day of Prayer for an End to Violence Against Women.

For three consecutive years she filed legislation proposing income-tax checkoffs for a Domestic Abuse Prevention Taxpayer Support Fund plus a Crisis Pregnancy and Abortion Prevention Taxpayers Support Fund. However, all of those proposals died in committee.

During her legislative career Hamilton was the principal author of six measures to prohibit the abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation of elderly persons.

She also secured funding for a pilot program that authorized adult day-care centers in Oklahoma. “This program allows people to stay out of nursing homes,” she said. “It costs less than warehousing our elderly citizens in nursing homes, and provides both them and their families with a much higher quality of life.”

She secured passage of a bill to channel more state resources into inner-city schools, “where they should be.” Oklahoma’s two-tier educational system is “a travesty that creates despair and all the terrible social consequences that go with it,” she contends.

In 2006 and again in 2007 Hamilton sponsored the state’s first legislation to outlaw trafficking in human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation, and in 2008 she co-authored House Bill 1021, to make human trafficking a felony offense; that measure was adopted by the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Henry.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control established a Human Trafficking Unit in 2012 because contemporary slavery has gained some traction in Oklahoma, OBNDD spokesman Mark Woodward said. Wiretaps of members of drug cartels revealed that “these people traffic in anything that will turn a profit,” including narcotics, weapons and humans, adults and minors alike, he said.

During her tenure in the Legislature, “If I could do something to save human lives, I did it, regardless of the political consequences,” Hamilton said.

“What I’m most proud of is that there are people alive today who would be dead if I had not been in the Legislature. The lives of our elderly and disabled are better, more hopeful, than they would be if I hadn’t been there.”

-30-

 

Fall Cleaning. Life Cleaning.

 

I cleaned out my office the Monday after session adjourned.

My son and one of his friends drove over and carried it all out.

Now, after leaving them stacked up for months, I’m figuring out what to keep and what to toss from the things I brought home. I remember Princess Diana, after her divorce, selling all her old clothes. That was a smart move.

I’m going through a decidedly low-brow version of that this week. I’m tossing out clothes, shoes, books, files and all manner of things I don’t plan to ever use again.

In the process, I’m also deep-cleaning my house. My asthma has reared its ugly head after a couple years’ grace. I usually shampoo the carpets and clean behind and under all the places I don’t ordinarily clean behind and under a couple of times a year.

But I haven’t done it since before session started last year. Too busy. Too distracted.

Now, the asthma has brought it home that the carpets are holding dirt and the places back behind where I never clean are dusty, too. So, I’m going to take this place apart and put it back together again.

In the process, I will toss the detritus of my “official” life. The Representative Suits and all the stuff that goes with them are going to Goodwill. I’ve also got to figure out where I want to hang paintings and similar things that I brought home, as well as what shelves will hold which whatnots.

Some of these things are deeply meaningful to me, and I want them where I can cherish them as my life goes forward.

At the same time, I’m considering what software I need as a writer vs what software I needed as a legislator. The difference is the difference between a Honda Fit and an 18 wheeler. I used Microsoft Publisher to create my campaign literature, Microsoft Access and then later Filemaker Pro to run my databases, Excel to track financial records, and Word to communicate with my office.

I can’t think of a reason why I will need any of that going forward. I have, just by my daily usage, pretty well switched over to Mars Edit for blogging, Scrivener for book writing, Numbers for spreadsheeting, a free-form document filer for the research on my books called DevonThink Office Pro (Oh, how I love typing that phrase: “my books.) and a combination of Nisus Writer Pro, Mellel and Pages for word processing. My new database is a bitsy little thing called Tap Forms, which I use to keep such things as the serial numbers of my software, and smallish personal mailing lists.

If I had to cull it down to the things I really need for work, I could get by with Scrivener, Mars Edit, Pages, Numbers, DevonThink, Tap Forms and iPhoto. All of these (with the exception of DevonThink) are lightweight and inexpensive.

My only heavy duty software is Aperture and a suite of digital darkroom software from Topaz. But that’s not work. It’s hobby.

As for hardware, I have a desktop and a laptop and I use both. I plan to keep both. No way could the laptop handle the things the desktop does, and no way could I put the desktop in my purse and go.

I’m changing my life around the edges because I’ve changed it at the work core of it. It’s a bit discombobulating, going through such a fundamental change in my life. But it’s also exciting and liberating.

It took me a while to figure out what this lightness and happiness I was feeling actually was. Along with the files and the heavy-duty software, I was tossing away responsibility for tens of thousands of people. I grieved that a bit. I worry about my constituents, about who is going to take care of them.

But I have to let go of taking care of them and move on.

Aside from that, which is a little bit like sending your 5-year-old off to his first day of school, I feel incredibly light and unencumbered. I am awash with choices and the possibilities of new beginnings.

But it’s more than that. It took a while to figure it out, and then one day, it hit me what I was feeling.

I feel free.

Last Vote

It’s a done deal.

I’ve finished my last day of my last legislative session.

I had a lovely evening after we adjourned with the people I love. When I came home, it felt so good. I just looked around and thought how much I love being here.

Then, when I went to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I got up, got dressed, got in my car and drove around. I even drove back to the capitol building and did a loop around it.

In the course of that drive, I went over the personal things about this job. I said good-bye, one by one, to the few things I will miss. I said good riddance to the many other things I am glad to be rid of. I said a lot of thank-yous to Jesus.

After all that, I came back home, went back to bed and slept the sleep of peace.

Today, I’m going to take my mother out for the ice cream and the drive that she’s been missing (and complaining about missing) for the past few weeks. I’m also going to go get paint samples to paint a room in my house.

I plan to take a week away from blogging to rededicate my life and to seek God’s guidance for what’s ahead.  I also need rest and healing time. I plan to be back here and at it on June 2.

Several readers have expressed concern that I will stop blogging. That is not going to happen. I know that this blog and writing are a big part of my future. If the way things have worked in the past are a predictor of the future, I’ll come back from this prayer time ready to roll.

In the meantime, thank you for all the wonderful things you’ve said to me the past few days. It’s been a gift, walking this path with you.

Here are a few iPhone snap shots from my last day:

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Legislator’s eye view of the House floor in session.


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Looking across the chamber from my desk. 


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Saying good-bye to the staff. 


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My seat mate, office mate, best bud, Representative Anastasia Pittman.

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Last vote. I don’t remember what the bill was. I do remember that this was a vote on the emergency clause of the bill. 

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View from the podium just before we made the Sine Die motion. The top glassed in gallery is the press booth. 



Last Day

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Unless we manage to tie ourselves in knots, this is the last day of session.

I will still be the representative for House District 89 until November 16 of this year. People will be able to call me “Representative” all the rest of my days. Unless I sign up as a lobbyist (don’t hold your breath) I have privileges of the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representative so long as I live.

We’re a small club, and parts of that clubbiness never go away.

But, barring breakdowns and special sessions, today is the last day that I will drive to the capitol, park my car and walk into the building to go to the House floor to vote on the people’s business. Today is the last day that I will walk on that floor as an active voting member of the House with the privilege and the weight of speaking for tens of thousands of people resting on my shoulders.

At some point today, I will push the button to make my last vote.

I may have already made my last speech. Probably so. But then again, I may find something today that I want to debate. I don’t plan these things, so I don’t know for sure.

There is an energy on the House floor when it is in session that is hard to describe. You walk through those doors and there’s a hum of people working, talking. It has an urgency, even when they’re joking around, that you don’t find anywhere else. Their nerved up emotions hit you almost like a charge of electricity.

I’m so accustomed to this that I don’t feel it anymore. I remember it from when I was new.

On busy days, the rotunda outside the House is so full of lobbyists that it’s difficult to get out of the House to the rest of the building. It’s like weaving through a crowd at Wal Mart on Black Friday. If you’re a House member, lobbyists will interrupt your progress repeatedly to say “Hello Representative,” or some such. People who want to talk to you about this bill or that will stop you as you walk out.

Sitting on the House floor is a bit like being a fish in the proverbial barrel. We’re at the bottom of a huge room, with galleries surrounding us on all four sides. The press is in their own gallery at the top of all the others where they can look down onto us and peer into our laps. They can see what we’re reading and what we’re doing.

That’s why I sit at the back of the room. With my seniority, I can sit where I want. I chose the last seat, the one right next to the door, because the press has to turn their cameras downward in a deliberate fashion to get me. I don’t like being on camera for hours at a time.

I’m extremely tired today. It’s been a long week. I am also unsettled and sad about a vote that I had to cast last night. I wanted to end my time in the House on an up note with the people I work with. Instead, this divisive vote has created acrimony and angst. I am, as so often happens, the odd one out. Now, after sleeping on it, I’m thinking that I should have gone in-your-face with them and helped kill this evil bill. That is the hell of this job in a few sentences.

I’m going to write about the issues surrounding that particular vote in much greater detail later because it goes to the core responsibilities of representative government. It is a case study in how government which is dominated and run by special interests — in this case corporatist interests — fails its citizens, even in the most obvious areas of public safety. It is also a case study in how weak legislators who won’t fight their own party for what’s right end up failing the people and endangering their constituents’ lives.

Now that I think about it, this is a good way to end my 18-year legislative career. It is a highly appropriate way.

I have rules about what I do in office. Two of the most important are: I don’t kill people, and if I can do something that will save lives, I will do it. The cost to me doesn’t count in this equation.

Those little rules of mine got me into what people here in Oklahoma call “a Wewoka switch” last night. They forced me to vote for a horrifically evil piece of legislation that came about because of the dominance of money interests in our state government, money interests who will kill kids to squeeze the last dime out of government for themselves.

In the process, I ended up at odds with people I care about on this last day of my time on that floor as a voting member. And now, I’m thinking I was wrong, that my vote will be used to empower the corporatism that is bankrupting our state and impoverishing its people and leaving our children’s lives forfeit.

How could anything be more appropriate than that? If there is a better way to describe the hell of this job, I don’t know of it.

It’s been my meat and bread for years. Why shouldn’t it be my last legislative supper as well?

I am feeling nostalgic as I write this. But I do not have one shred of desire to come back to that House floor next year and do it again. There is not one atom in my body, not one thought in my head, not one lingering bit of longing to be on the hot seat and make any more of these gut wrenching, wrong and wronger/who-do-we-hurt/rob-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich decisions.

There’s a hum when you walk onto the House floor. The charge of emotions hits you like electricity. Nothing I’ve ever encountered anywhere else comes close to the experience of legislating.

I am feeling nostalgic. This is a big passage for me. A huge change in my life. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I end up crying at some point, simply from the weight of emotions and weakness that comes from being so tired.

I am not looking forward to walking out of those doors for the last time as a legislator. That will be a wrench.

But I am looking forward to the life beyond those doors. I need to pray this through, but the broad strokes of what I’m going to do are already in front of me.

I am so ready for this change.

Saying Goodbye.

 

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Photo Source: C-SPAN

I am leaving the Oklahoma legislature. Last week was a week of formal goodbyes.

I gave a farewell speech to the House, which you can watch, if you’d like. Go here to see the video. The House Democrats held their annual Sine Die Party, and roasted me and other departing legislators. The Democratic Legislative Assistants prepared a delicious luncheon (Covered dish. All their best cooking. It was to die for.) with a cake with all our names and said another round of good-byes. I even got a small — and lovely — good-bye editorial in the Oklahoman.

We are still in the busiest time of the legislative process. We haven’t shut down. Not at all. That means I’m going to be tres busy until we actually do sine die. (Sine die is the motion we make to adjourn the legislative session.) But I am grateful beyond words to my colleagues for giving me these many avenues of good-bye.

Each of these things is a rite of passage for what has to be a huge transition in my life. Leaving the legislature is a little bit like a soldier, coming home from a war. You are leaving a combative, total environment which engages you on every level and returning to a world that now seems out of kilter by comparison.

Wherever people are for a period of time, that becomes their normal. Normal for me has long ago become the totally unreal world of elected politics.

At the same time, I am way past glad to be leaving. God gave me something like marching orders for the rest of my life a few years ago when I was sitting in the cathedral at Fatima. I’ve dithered since then, occupied and preoccupied by the legislative wars and the many needs of my constituents. If you don’t think that these things are a 24/7 occupation that devours of all your thoughts and passions, then, you my friend, have never been a legislator.

Those of us who legislate or who have legislated know that there are very few jobs that swallow you whole like legislating does. It is difficult to disengage enough to maintain your friendships and family and retain something of your personality.

As for fulfilling the call that God gave me, I found it well nigh impossible. I need more than corners of time in my days to write the things He wants me to write. I’m not going to discuss in detail what I think this is all about. I have a lot of praying to do first.

I do know that I am not going to abandon the political process. I am also not going to stop writing about the intersection of public life and Christianity on this blog. I will, if anything, be a lot more free to talk about these issues now that I’m not bound to protect the privacy of so many people.

That is not to say that I will be talking about closed door conversations with my colleagues or divulging the almost endless private things that my constituents have shared with me through 18 years of elected office.

I have represented, cared for and cared about thousands of people for a very long time. In the course of that, many of them have opened their souls to me. I have never and I will never talk about the people who trusted me to be their voice in government and who honored me by opening their lives and hearts to me in conversations that were in fact and in truth non-sacramental confessions.

All these things I take with me to my grave.

What I will talk about is the intersection of public policy and publicly stated comments, actions, etc. I’ve operated for a long time using the standard that if something is published and circulated publicly, I can talk about it. That won’t change. It will, rather, be enhanced by the fact that I know what’s behind these things. I will be a lot less guarded in my opinions in the future when I do not have the responsibility for many thousands of people on my shoulders.

Christians in America have a mountain in front of us. After more than two hundred years of having things our way, we are faced with a society in which we are beleaguered. We live in post Christian America. Our task is to re-convert our nation to Christ.  Right now, we are not up to that task. We are, in fact, confused, divided and overawed by our opposition.

That’s what I’m going to write about. Because somebody needs to do it. And because I am uniquely qualified for the job.

 

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My favorite Representative Hamilton photo. From Rose Day 2014. 

I tried to remember to thank everyone in this speech, but I somehow forgot to mention — even though I wrote their names down and they were right in front of me — two of the most important people. Louise Scoles, who fought for my election and was my sponsor when I entered the Catholic Church. And George Violette, my brother by another mother, who is family in every way except blood. I love both of you.

The “Tony” I introduce in the video is Tony Lauinger, president of Oklahomans for Life and Vice President of National Right to Life. He is my friend. I know that he will remain my friend after I leave office.

If you want to watch the speech, go here.

 

Supremes Dump Oklahoma Court Case and I Am Bummed About It

PodiumandSeal

There are times when I get up and walk off the House floor.

I go to my office and tell my secretary not to let anyone in. Or, I will go wandering around the rotunda.

But I get away from the mike on my desk and its ever-beckoning invitation to let fly and say whatever I want.

Because what I would want to say in that heated moment is not what I would want to say later, after the dust has settled and I’ve found my inner sane.

I am in a similar situation now, which is why I am not going to weigh in on the only bit of news today that has anything directly to do with me. Because I know that what I would say now is not what I would want to have said later.

Sometimes, it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided not to hear a case based on an Oklahoma law concerning the prescribing of drugs used in chemical abortions. I co-authored an amicus curiae brief in favor of this law, along with my friend House Majority Leader Pam Peterson. That’s why I’ve been mum on this case up until now.

I will talk about it more. Later.

For now, here are a few facts (which I will have some thoughts about in the future) from the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court left in place Monday a decision by Oklahoma’s highest court that a major provision of that state’s new abortion law is unconstitutional because it effectively bans all medication abortions.

The high court last summer had tentively agreed to consider the issue but asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court for clarification on exactly what the law proscribes. The Oklahoma court issued an opinion last week that the law would effectively end the early-term practice of medication-induced abortions, and was thus unconstitutional.

Upon receiving the Oklahoma opinion, the Supreme Court then announced Monday that it will not schedule the case for briefing and consideration. As is customary, the justices gave no reason for deciding not to hear the case.

It is clear, however, that there are other ways for the issue to reach the Supreme Court. A number of states have passed similar restrictions on medication abortions, and the issue is working its way through the courts.

Busy Week Ahead.

I am going to be busier than anyone who has not been an elected official can imagine this next week.

I’m talking about long days that run into night of hearing bills counter-balanced with arguments, fights, anger, jostling, jangling over-stimulation that does not stop.

What that means to the readers of this blog is that I won’t be able to respond to you as quickly as some of you would like. I may very well get snappy in some of my infrequent replies, and more than likely I will make some really dunderheaded mistake.

So I apologize in advance.

And ask your forebearance.

In the meantime, let’s pray for the next pope. We need a great man to lead us through these contentious times.

What Does Your Workplace Look Like?

I am fascinated by the places people carve out for themselves when they work.

Whether it’s a rest bar a the Post Office, a cubicle, or a spot on an assembly line, we all tend to make nests out of our workplaces.

Writers, in particular, seem to give full vent to their creative nesting impulses when it comes to the places where they put words to paper. The Guardian published a fascinating article a few years ago with photos of different writer’s rooms, described in the writer’s own words. It turns out that famous writers work their magic while standing at lecterns, reclining in their beds, sitting elegantly in beautifully turned out offices and a bit everything in between. Some of them look out their office window at a beautiful view; others prefer to stare at a blank wall.

It seems that the literary muse like many different kinds of nests. But one thing each of these workplaces had in common was the sense of ownership the writer seemed to feel about it. It was “theirs” in a way that the rest of their houses were not. 

So it is with all of us. We humans feel a need to claim our turf. We are more comfortable if we sit in the same place at church, take the same desk at work and dine in the same corner of the company cafeteria. We take comfort from and even find a bit of peace in the predictability of having “our” place when we sit down to work. 

Maybe that’s why I found this article so fascinating. Or maybe it was just that I am such a dedicated nester. Home is important to me. Home is refuge, safety and peace. Even when I’m out and about, I like to have spots that are mine, where I can go and have at least a facsimile of home when I get there. 

My office at the Oklahoma state capitol is no exception. I deliberately chose an office that is a bit off the wide-open path. To get to my office, you have to work your way through a suite, including getting past my secretary. I filled it with things that have meaning to me and I regard it as a sort of retreat in that big, echoey building. There are times when I need to get away from the noise and bother of that place and think things through. I also need a retreat where I can pray. 

I spent hours looking at the photos of writer’s rooms in that article and reading their thoughts about their workplaces. Work is such an important part of all our lives. We spend a huge part of our waking time in these cubicles, offices and stations. That makes them important. 

Here’s a photo of my office. 

What does your workplace look like?

 

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Pro-Life Laws

Representative Pam Peterson and I filed an Amicus Curiae brief on an Oklahoma Supreme Court challenge to a pro life law in October.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court just handed down their opinion on this case, as well as another one involving the use of ultrasounds in abortions. The Court has ruled against both these pro life laws.

Needless to say, I am disappointed. But I am also not downcast. This is the way things sometimes go in our Democracy. Now, it’s up to those of us who want to protect unborn people to re-tool and re-think.

Other than this, I’m not going to comment on this action at this time. I may have something else to say later. I may not. But for today, this is my only statement. Feel free to express your ideas in the com boxes, however.

I’m going to attach the two rulings in their entirety. They are back to back in the file linked to below. Read them — or don’t — as you wish.

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