Tuesday, July 27, 2010


What would you think of a farmer who was persuaded to plant less of his crop in order to spend less money on the harvest.  It would not take a rational person long to decipher that by planting less and less and harvesting less and less, you would eventually have less and less income until eventually you had nothing. 

Unfortunately, like the foolish farmer, recent Texas leadership is doing the same thing.  A candid look at Texas reveals we are beginning to lag behind other states more and more in productivity and economic growth.  In large measure this phenomenon is tied to the fact a majority of the Texas leadership, especially our governor, refuse to invest in the future of this state.

This state is lagging behind and rapidly approaching the status of a third-world country, not because we have spent too much or even because we have taxed too little.  It is because of the fact we have not made wise investments of our tax money in the future of this state.  For the last several years we have continued to elect people to be in charge of our public school system’s long-range policy who hold public education in contempt.  Instead of concentrating on improving the quality of our state pubic education system, they continue to seek ways to circumvent it and cast too much of our educational resources in the hands of private or so-called charter schools.  They have moved the investment of the public education funds from the hands of experts in investment and made it a political matter placed in the hands of amateurs who are motivated more by political persuasion than training in economics.

Our legislature continues to believe that quality of education can be enhanced by “gimmicks” and not by solid investments.  Instead of seeking remedies for poor scores on evaluating testing, we have artificially raised our test scores by lowering standards.  The state has shirked its responsibility mandated by our constitution by shifting the responsibility of funding public education from the state to local school districts.  Instead of making funding of our state public education system a first-priority item, our legislature has forced an ever-increasing tax burden on homeowners and small businesses in the form of property taxes.  Legislators and other state leadership have ignored the fact the cost of ignorance is far more expensive in the long run than the price of quality education.  Our governor continues to boast about how well Texas ranks in the nation, ignoring the fact our public education system is rated by all experts in the field at 44th or 45th of all the 50 states of the union.

In the field of public education, where Texas once was a leader in the nation in providing affordable higher education to its citizens, Texas is quickly turning our public institutions into private colleges beyond the reach of middle-class Texans.  Instead of investing in higher education, the Legislature has authorized local boards of regents to set tuition wherever they choose.  While not alleviating the financial needs of college to a great deal, we have in fact tripled and quadrupled the cost of higher education in this state for many of our citizens.  Too many members of our state government regard research as academic snobbery, and the attractions of merit scholars and distinguished professors to be a waste of money.

For shortchanging public and higher education in this state, future generations will continue to pay the price of having the lowest paying jobs in the country, attracting fewer and fewer high-end industries and eventually continuing to rank with the most backward states of the nation.

Failure to take a holistic and long-term view of other social problems will ultimately ill serve our state.  Our penal system is a prime example.  While we rank with several nations of the world with the number of people incarcerated, we refuse to take full advantage of alternate systems of judicial punishment.  Most who have studied the system realize corrective punishment and rehabilitation can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of incarceration behind concrete and steel.  Intensive incarceration can be as costly to Texas taxpayers as keeping a medical student in our finest medical school.  We could easily double our number of parole and probation supervisors. And benefit with greater results.  We could accomplish punishment and rehabilitation, while at the same time allowing those convicted of non-violent crimes to be productive, and in large measure, pay for their own punishment.  Many of the draconian punishments insisted on by law-and-order advocates in our legislative system have not resulted in Texas having the lowest crime rate in the nation.

A failure to take a long-term view of our health problems in this state have resulted in the waste of millions and millions of dollars.  Failure to spend what is needed for the health of children in this state has caused us to leave millions on the table to be spent in other states; partially funded by money sent to Washington by Texas’ taxpayers.  Texas has little or no preventative medicine program for those citizens here in the greatest need.  As an example, Hispanic Texans have and suffer from five times the incidence of diabetes as Caucasians.  It is well known and established in medical circles that identification of diabetes and conservative treatment through change of lifestyle and diet can control well over 50% of the incidents of this dread disease; and yet, Texas has virtually no program in place to address these needs.  Instead, our Texas health program will spend billions on the aftereffects of diabetes and only a pittance on its prevention.

Until the voting citizens of Texas start demanding investment in the future rather than platitudes and empty brags, our state will continue to lag behind many other states of this union, not taking full advantage of the precious resources of this state, which include future generations of Texans.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


It appears some Republican operatives have a history and tradition of sleazy conduct. The sleaziest that comes to mind was the burglary of Democratic headquarters in Washington which resulted in the resignation and impeachment of President Nixon. Apparently, the tradition of underhanded conduct by political operatives favoring Republicans is still alive and well.

Recent news reports bring to light the South Carolina U.S. Senate race where the Democratic nominee, Mr. Green, was arrested and unable to post bond and filed a pauper’s oath in order to be released on his own recognizance awaiting trial. Just a few short months later, Mr. Green managed to scrape up slightly more than $10,000 to get himself on the ballot as a candidate for the Democratic nomination as the Senator for South Carolina.

Mr. Green has been unable to explain to anyone where the $10,000 plus filing fee came from or how he managed a campaign after having himself declared poverty stricken. Suspicions abound his financial angel was not necessarily a Democrat, but someone bent on trying to divide the Democratic votes in November, or at least dilute them, to the benefit of the Republican nominee. We had a slightly similar experience in our own area in 2008 with our state senator experience.

If you will recall, Chris Bell, a former candidate for governor in Texas, ran along with several others to be the state senator for district 17. The creation of thisdistrict alone was enough to raise some eyebrows about fair-minded politics. The district was gerrymandered so that it runs from the North side of IH-10 on the West side of Houston, down through coastal counties, including half of Galveston Island, through Chambers County, through a narrow strip of land where there are
no humans, Sabine Pass and reaches up and takes in Port Arthur, cutting it off from the rest of Jefferson County.

Chris Bell emerged as the favorite receiving 85,725 votes in the first special election. There was speculation Chris Bell could possibly win the seat without a run-off, and in all probability would have, except for the fact that near the filing deadline a second Democratic candidate showed up in the form of Stephanie E. Simmons. Ms. Simmons is an African-American whose residence was extremely questionable. She claimed a residence where her grandmother had lived in one of the counties just South of Harris County, but numerous investigations and visits to the house seemed to indicate Ms. Simmons had never lived there.

Further investigation revealed Ms. Simmons had been encouraged to join the race by former Representative Ron Wilson, an African- American member of the House from Houston for several years. Mr. Wilson had been rejected for re-election by his constituency in Harris County largely due to the fact he continued to vote more with Republicans than Democrats. The final straw was the last session of Mr. Wilson’s service when he was a strong ally and advocate for Speaker Tom Craddick, as well as Tom DeLay. Being bitter about being rejected by the people in his own district, Wilson became fairly active on behalf of many other Republican candidates.

Coincidentally, his lobby business picked up and was hired as assistant parliamentarian by then Speaker Tom Craddick. Although Ms. Simmons did very little in the way of campaigning, spent almost no money, she managed to garner 30,839 votes or approximately 13% or 14% of the total; just enough to make sure Chris Bell was not able to win it all in the first general special election. Unfortunately, in the runoff between Chris Bell and the Republican Joan Huffman, 179,622 voters which had shown up at the polls in the first election failed to return and exercise their right to vote. Bell, who had received almost 86,000 votes in the first election, received 19,176.  Huffman, who had received 58,000 in the first election, received 24,497, and is now State Senator for District 17.

It appears Republicans in Texas are getting a little nervous about their favorite son, Rick Perry. Recent articles and polls show Rick Perry and Mayor Bill White are virtually neck-and-neck. White appears to have moved ahead with a few revelations concerning Perry’s record in office. So, here we go again with the sleaze.

Out of the blue a petition has arrived in Texas containing several thousand signatures asking that the Green Party be included on the November ballot. Green Party candidates have not scored enough votes in gubernatorial races to entitle
them to automatically be on the November ballot. To obtain such entitlement requires about 5% of the total vote, and the best the Green Party has ever done has been about 2%.  It is widely believed among political observers that Green Party candidates generally siphon votes away from Democratic candidates.

Well, it appears most of the mystery has been solved. Mike Toomey, a former State Representative and well-known Republican activist has admitted paying approximately $12,000 to an official of the Green Party to attempt to gather enough signatures to get the Green Party on the ballot.

Apparently, the Green Party official got cold feet about the source of the money he was receiving and backed out. The slack was apparently taken up by approximately ½ million dollar contribution made by some anonymous corporate source from out of the state to hire people to produce enough signatures to qualify the Green Party for the November ballot. Involvement of two of Perry’s staff has recently come to light. It looks just like an underhanded scheme Mike Toomey is capable of.

Toomey’s history is that after leaving the Texas House he became a very well-paid lobbyist and then a staff member for Governor Clements. Upon leaving Clements office, he went back to lobbying and showed up next as an aide to Rick Perry. His most notable accomplishment was to persuade Perry to issue a gubernatorial order that young girls be vaccinated with a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Aside from such an order being invasive to the privacy of young women, it also revealed Toomey, his number one aide, had been the lobbyist for the manufacturer of the vaccine. In such a case it was not too hard to connect the dots. In Republican politics, the rule is always to follow the money.

A district judge in Austin ruled the Green Party off the ballot. The Party took its appeal to the all-Republican Supreme Court which promptly lifted the stay pending further review. Even though more and more evidence emerges the scheme to dilute liberal votes was hatched in Governor Perry’s “shop,” odds are the Green Party will remain on the ballot. Our Supreme Court once again will demonstrate it has the ability to rise above principle for the sake of politics.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Back in the early 1970's when the Texas Supreme Court  ruled our system of funding public education in Texas was unconstitutional, Republicans, led by Representative Culberson, now a member of Congress, had some unique ideas on how to meet the challenge.  The Court held our state’s constitution required the State Legislature to provide all of the school children of Texas with an equal opportunity for a quality education.  Representative Culberson’s solution was simply to amend the Constitution and remove the provision guaranteeing quality of education.

Under the leadership of Governor Perry it seems the Republican mantra has not changed a great deal.  By all measurements among public education systems in the United States, Texas is ranked either 46th or 45.th 

Primarily, we are ranked so low because we have a state board of education which is the laughing stock of the country. In fact, there's a substantial number of conservatives in the Legislature who would just as soon see public education dismantled. In fact, state support for education has eroded substantially in Texas.

In the 1940's Texas was among the leaders in the nation in funding and caring for public education.  At that time the state furnished about 60 to 65% of all funding for the state education system.  Now, we are down to somewhere around 30%, and have an education system mandated by the state but basically funded locally.  

While bragging about no new taxes, the State Legislature continues to force homeowners, small business owners and other property owners to do what is the constitutionally mandated duty of the state. 

To make matters even worse, Governor Perry has grandly turned down the opportunity to compete for several billions of federal dollars stating he is afraid federal bureaucrats will lower the standards for Texas.

Texas would have to lower standards? Hardly. In fact, we're below the national norm now. How on earth could we be in any worse shape as far as demanding accountability from our educational system?
Governor Perry, while making political speeches, brags about what a great system of education we have in Texas--a brag which will not stand close examination.  Those in charge of public education in Texas have now devalued the TAKS test which has been used for several years as the measurement of accomplishment of students in public education.  State bureaucrats, along with Governor Perry, have hailed higher scores on standardized tests administered throughout the state’s system.  

What they fail to reveal is the fact they have lowered the standards so that it is now a lot easier to look as though the students are doing better in the various categories. 

To me it certainly takes gall for the governor of a state to stand bold-faced in front of his constituents and brag about a public education system where only 38% of 4th graders were rated as proficient in math and 28% in reading.  This is according to national “normed” tests--tests taken by all other students in the nation.  

However, to show you the difference, the Texas test shows that a whopping 86% passed the TAKS in math and 84% in reading. How could they fail the national test and pass the Texas test with such flying colors? 

There are several problems with our governor's brag about having a great system and the way it measures accomplishments of our students. First of all, it's a lie. Governors shouldn't lie to their constituents. Second of all, it keeps Texans from really knowing how badly off we are and from being motivated to do something about it. 

As a leading educator in the United States pointed out, we may fool ourselves temporarily, but eventually Texas’ students are going to have to compete with students in the rest of the world.  

We are building a trap for the future of our Texas kids, and the blame should be laid at the foot of our current governor and his cronies who value politics over productivity.

And one further note:  Subsequent to this posting of Senator Parker's article, the Commissioner of Education has announced yet another iteration of testing that started 1980 with TABS [Texas Assessment of Basic Skills] and five years later the test was changed and recast as TEAMS [Texas Assessment of Minimum Skills]. Then in the early 90s the test was changed again to TAAS [Texas Assessment of Academic Skills], to be followed a few years later by TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills] and then a short time later in the spring of '03 this became TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge & Skills]. Now comes STAAR, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. It may be significant to note that none of the previously installed tests ever reached their full implementation--all were implemented on a multi-year phase-in process, such that, in order to be accredited in the first year, the schools had to achieve only 25% passing, and then the pass rate was inched up 5% per year. The TAKS 2010 standard for academically acceptable was 70% passing in Reading, 70% Writing, 70% Social Studies, 60% Mathematics, and 55% Science. Keep in mind that this is the standard for the percentage of students passing. In other words, in each school, depending on the subject, the school could have been rated as "acceptable" for anywhere between 30-45% of the students to actually fail the test. But that's not all. Another measure, a so-called ''projected" success rate, is sometimes used to waive certain students' failure to pass this year because it looked like they were improving at a rate that was ''on track'' to pass somewhere further on up in their schooling before they graduated [See Texas Tribune: Projecting Success of Failing Students Often Wrong]. Some educators have been overheard to call this the ''pixie dust'' or educa-mystical approach to accountability, magically changing a school rating from 'unacceptable' to 'acceptable'. [THH - July 12]