May 8, 2020
Dallas Jailhouse Rock Ends with Victory
for Social Distancing Disobedience Star
Cruz Gets Hair Cut at Dallas Shop
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott ought to be really glad that the popular live music venue Marty B's in the Denton County suburb of Bartonville qualified for the first round of the Texas reopening as a restaurant. Shelley Luther's band has a gig lined up there exactly one month from tonight.
You can tug on Superman's cape and spit into the wind and pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger. But you don't mess around with Luther if you're a politician who can't see a sucker punch coming.
Luther isn't a folk singer. She's a folk hero on the hard right - a suburban karaoke circuit cover hit crooner who played the politicians from Addison to Austin like a 12-string guitar in a magnificent performance that peaked with her liberation from the Dallas County slammer on Thursday.
A 46-year-old Lewisville resident who owns a beauty salon and doubles as the lead singer for Crush, Luther deserves an Oscar for her role as an everyday small business owner who had to work to eat and had the guts to stand up a tyrannical government that tried to stop her from doing that.
Luther entered a league with Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jane Fonda and MLK as someone who had the courage to go to jail to draw attention to a situation that she perceived as unjust and amoral. She's being portrayed today in conservative circles as a contemporary martyr for a cause célèbre that state and local governments spawned with restrictions designed to protect the public health from COVID-19.
But it seems pretty apparent that Luther - whether by virtue of improvisational ingenuity or a collaborative effort involving others who understand the political system's vulnerabilities - was doing her best to get arrested in a high-stakes dare that paid off like the lottery.
Luther set the hook and the Democrats in Dallas and the Republicans in Austin all took the bait in an amazing turn of events that began when she decided to keep the Salon A La Mode on the north side of Dallas open in April when it was supposed to be shut down as a business that Abbott had designated as nonessential.
Luther was swimming upstream in unchartered waters in the first lockdown in the history of a Lone Star State where the official coronavirus death toll cracked four digits on Friday at noon with 1,004 lives lost to the pandemic in Texas in the past 62 days.
But Luther wasn't trying to get away with a crime that had no obvious victims when she took to social media to promote the fact that she was breaking the new law and spurning orders from the local powers that were telling her to shut the place down or face the consequences.
Luther demonstrated a natural flair for the dramatic when she took a cease and desist letter from County Judge Clay Jenkins to an anti-lockdown rally and ripped it up before a cheering audience of fellow revolutionaries.
The local leaders in the land that Democrats control had been attempting to enforce an order that the Republican governor had imposed in early April in a move that superceded the restrictions that they'd had in place for a week or two. Abbott had praised the mayors and country judges who'd moved swiftly on their own initiatives to circle the wagons before the governor threw them under the coronavirus bus when the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court set Luther free.
Hardline conservatives portrayed Abbott as a fraud for attempting to take credit for Luther's liberation with the retroactive modification of the order she'd openly defied. But Abbott apparently convinced President Donald Trump in a meeting at the White House a few hours later that he'd been responsible for her release after the nation's chief executive inquired about her plight and agreed with the outcome.
Trump gave Luther a plug on Friday - calling her "an incredible representative for a large group of people that want to do the same thing - they want to get back to work."
The state's two most conservative statewide leaders - Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney Ken Paxton - had jumped on the bandwagon the previous day with expressions of shock and outrage that the local socialists would have the audacity to put an innocent victim of government overreach behind bars. Luther ended up serving two days of a weeklong sentence that a Democratic state district judge had imposed after getting fed up with the taunting of the shelter-in-place rules and persistent flaunting of her steadfast refusal to play by them.
The governor and the justices who represent the GOP on the state's highest court followed the other politicos into the trap that the self-styled makeup artist and pop music performer had set with the stroke of a veteran maestro.
While Luther might have been a one-person band from start to finish, Republican State Rep. Briscoe Cain should be getting some buzz for a best supporting actor nod if he'd been knowingly involved in the plot's conception and execution as the salon owner's criminal defense lawyer.
But conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan had put on a clinic last year in the art of the political sting with some impromptu ad-libbing that culminated in the collapse of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen's long career as an elected leader.
Luther has a chance now to capitalize on her newfound fame as a potential candidate for Congress or the Legislature or higher office if she considered a mid-life career change. Or she could try to make the grand leap from the local pub stage to Hollywood or Broadway with the audition that she crushed with the protest shenanigans as a cross between Samuel Adams and Streep en route to becoming the most famous coronavirus freedom fighter.
Luther proved to be a money magnet in the battle against oppression as an ostensible political prisoner - thanks to a GoFund me page that raised about a half-million dollars for legal defense. That should cover Cain's fees at least if he'd been planning to send her a bill.