Even before Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had finished his 21-hour almost-filibuster, his feat of stamina was being compared and contrasted with other recent classics of the genre: The 13-hour filibuster by his Senate colleague Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the 11-hour tour de force by Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis (D).
While there are lots of differences between these long, mostly solo speeches, there is one glaring similarity: Cruz, Paul, and Davis all grew up in Texas — Cruz and Paul in the Houston area, Davis in Fort Worth. And while everyone remembers former Sen. Strom Thurmond's (Dixiecrat, S.C.) infamous 1957 filibuster of the Civil Rights Act — at 24 hours and 18 minutes, it still holds the record in the U.S. Senate — the actual record for longest filibuster is held by another Texan, Bill Meier.
In 1977, from 3:20 p.m. on May 2 until 10:20 a.m. on May 4, Meier held the floor in the Texas State Senate to filibuster a worker's compensation bill. In case you don't want to do the math, "Meier spoke for forty-three friggin' hours," says Joe Concha at Mediaite. Like baseball's Cal Ripken, Meier "owns one of the few records in professional or political sports that cannot and will not be broken."
So what is it about Texans that makes them such masters of the filibuster?
I'm not a native Texan, though I married into a family full or them and have lived in the Lone Star State for a handful of years. I'd distill the spirit of Texas down to one phrase: "No excuse, just produce."
Another way of putting that: Texans are stubborn, and they understand that in order to succeed you need to be prepared. Nobody is going to filibuster your bill for you. Brené Brown — a fifth-generation Texan, professor of social work at the University of Houston, and TED-celebrity author on vulnerability — had this to say about her people, to Texas Monthly:
When I feel vulnerable, my first reaction is to punch somebody in the face. But growing up being a Texan is also the source of my resilience. I'm very resolute in my work and very passionate. And bullheaded! So those Texas virtues don't have to be tossed out the window? No.... Self-reliance and bootstrapping are Texas virtues, but so is moral courage. And I think vulnerability is the hardest courage. To show up and let yourself be seen, to speak out, to stand up for something you believe in, that takes a lot of vulnerability in this culture. [Texas Monthly]
There's a joke in David Byrne's classic movie about Texas, True Stories:
Texas can seem like an exaggerated microcosm of America: Hard work, rugged individualism, pride of place, and an admiration for big things. The filibuster reflects some of those same qualities. With nothing but will and preparation, a lone individual can gum up the works of the nation's highest legislative body.
Here's a more concrete example of why Texas and the filibuster go together like a cold beer and a hot day: "Hands on a hardbody." Each year from 1992 until 2005, a Longview, Texas, Nissan dealer gave a free pickup truck to the contestant who kept upright with his or her gloved hand on the vehicle for the longest period of time. The 1995 contest — memorialized in the oddly compelling 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body, and the short-run Broadway musical based on that film — lasted 77 hours. In the inaugural competition, a man stood for 87 hours to get his truck.
In the trailer for the documentary, the contestants could be talking about preparing for a filibuster: