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JOHNSON CITY, Texas — Blanco County, in the rolling heart of the Texas Hill Country, is deep red; 73 percent of its citizens favored Mitt Romney for president, and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took 69 percent of the vote here in the 2012 election.
Kenneth Bowker, 47, owner of Kenny’s Cantina in Johnson City, considered the federal government's shutdown from behind his beer-stained counter Tuesday, and said government spending “has been unsustainable for a long time.”
“But they’re just going to get the government credit card and swipe it one more time,” said Bowker, a tall man with waist-length hair and long, expressive fingers. “They’ll stick it to the American public. And who’s going to pick up the tab for reopening the government? The American public.”
Tuesday’s partial government shutdown — the nation’s first in 17 years — saw 800,000 federal workers stay home as House Republicans refused to approve a budget that did not include a delay in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
In Texas, a state where only 26 of the 254 counties voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, those opinions leaned predictably to the right.
Cruz, a tea party firebrand who tried to delay progress of health reform with a 21-hour speech to Congress last week, argued the health care reform law inflicts “enormous harm on the American people.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry, long an opponent of the federal government, blamed the Democratic leadership in Congress for using a “my-way-or-the-highway mentality” to ignore Republican concerns about health reform.
But Tuesday, so-called Obamacare didn’t seem to be a key concern in some of the deepest red areas of Texas. Many small business owners in rural central Texas approved of a shutdown that would limit government spending but said they were exasperated by the political process that led to it.
“The government spends way more money than we can afford. I can’t live beyond my means,” said Bowker. “Why do they get to live beyond their means?”
He produced a $10 bill, which bore a red stamp that read, “Vote the Bastards Out.” Many similar notes circulate in Johnson City, Bowker said.
“If we’re going to overthrow the government, now would be a good time to do it. They’re closed!” he said with a smile.
One patron, Jim Edwards, 63, a mechanic with a greasy shirt and mutton-chop facial hair, was less amused.
“I think it’s a joke, but so is the government,” he said.
Johnson City is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which is operated by the National Park Service. As a federally funded entity, the park is closed. Edwards was concerned about his friend who works for the National Park Service, as well as for the “guys on the border,” who he said wouldn’t be paid until the impasse is resolved. Beads of condensation formed on his bottle of Bud Light as he stared bleakly ahead.
“Bunch of grown men whining that they want to be in charge. It’s a joke,” said Edwards, without levity.
At C&M Automotive in Johnson City, where a bucket of American flags stands out front, 35-year-old owner Chance Kinsey rolled out from beneath a vehicle to share his thoughts.
“Whenever we have Democrats in office, we have a shutdown,” Kinsey said, laughing nervously as he wiped a ratchet with a grease rag. “They’re always trying to take away our guns, too.”
Travus Clark, a 17-year-old sheetrocker and friend of the family, was also in the shop.
“I don’t like how they’re not paying Border Patrol agents for working when the United States is shut down,” he said. “What’s going to happen without those agents? Gonna have a lot more Mexicans in Texas!”
Cheryl Pratt, 47, co-owner of Johnson City Sign Shop and Print, had a different concern. The National Park Service is a client, and it has frozen its orders until further notice.
“It doesn’t look good for tourism, either,” said Pratt, who wore a red T-shirt showing the U.S. states in the shape of a heart culminating in an oversize Texas at the base. “We’re still going to get up and work and do our thing and keep pushing forward. We’re a mom-and-pop shop. We better get up and work, because no one’s going to support us.”
Some 20 miles down the road in Burnet County, 73 percent of folks favored Cruz for Senate in 2012. In its picturesque town of Marble Falls, Edward Thompson, 68, owner of Olde Town Wine Market and Gifts, was the first in this random sampling to mention the link between the federal government shutdown and the Affordable Care Act.
“I disagree with the finger-pointing at the Republicans,” Edwards said from behind the counter of his cedar-scented store. “I’m not in favor of Obamacare. I think it’s a disaster. It’s going to give our children, our grandchildren, our economy a far greater problem than shutting the government down for two weeks.”
Teresa Estrada, 53, a medical assistant on the way to do her grocery shopping, was breezier.
“We need to get rid of all of them and start all over,” she said. “Frankly, I think they should all have to take a pay cut. If the military doesn’t get paid, they shouldn’t get paid.”
Similarly, Lance Center, 49, a harried CPA, grabbed his grocery cart and said over his shoulder, “It’s time to quit fighting and get some things done.”
Another 37 miles farther along a ribbon of country road punctuated by water towers and grazing cattle is the city of Llano, in a county where 76 percent voted for Cruz.
Buddy Miller, 64, a retired federal worker from the U.S. Geological Survey, snorted, “Did the government shut down? I hadn’t noticed!”
When pressed, he said, “They need to cut the budget. They need to quit spending. They need to man up and do what’s right.”
Across the town square at Enchanted Rocks and Jewelry, an Aladdin’s cave of rock specimens from Texas and the Southwest, owner Frank Rowell, 59, was pensive.
“I think the shutdown’s stupid,” he said. “It’s not going to accomplish anything other than make people angry. The government ought to compromise on things that are workable and stop wasting time on things that we have no hope to accomplish.”
Sandy Deatherage, 50, an off-duty bartender wearing rainbow flip-flops and a warm Texas smile, sat on a bench outside her bar drinking a beer. Flocks of grackles in the nearby town square serenaded the setting sun.
“I think Obama’s full of s---,” she said. “I mean, the means of collecting our money is still open, but the means of helping people is shut down. I’ve never been an Obama fan, but this shutdown has definitely made it worse.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that the Crimea region of Ukraine might already be lost to Russian control