Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recent Happenings in Austin

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Former Senator and Supreme Court Justice Oscar Mauzy had a motto inscribed on a poster he hung on the wall in his office.  The poster said, “Forgive and Remember.”  It is with grudging admiration for their political acumen that I remember how we lost the state Senate race for District 17 of which Port Arthur is a part.  If you will recall, Chris Bell, who ran Rick Perry a good race for governor sometime back and was the congressman who blew the whistle on Tom Delay’s heavy-handedness in Congress, should have won the state Senate seat for District 17. 
Chris Bell

In a special election, called due to the resignation of the district’s senator, numerous candidates filed for the spot.  It appeared for a while that Chris Bell, being the only announced Democratic candidate, would walk away with the race.  As predicted, Bell ran and came within a few votes of winning the seat outright.  Unfortunately for Bell, at the last minute a 44-year old, African-American, female lawyer filed as a Democrat. As to her Democratic credentials, Stephanie Simmons was suspect at best.  There was little or no evidence she had ever participated in the Democratic primary process; and even though there was testimony that she in fact did not live in the district, she qualified by claiming residence at her mother’s home which barely sat in Senate District 17, just outside the boundaries of Harris County. 

The Republican strategy was to siphon just enough votes away from Bell to cause a runoff with the leading Republican in the race, counting on the fact that minority voters traditionally do not turn out as well in runoff elections as do affluent, conservative Republican voters.   Sure enough the strategy worked.  About half of the minority voters in the Jefferson County part of District 17 showed up for the runoff, and Bell was defeated by Joan Huffman, a conservative Republican who lives West of Houston.

Stephanie Simmons
This week in Austin, Stephanie Simmons who caused the runoff in 2008, handing the Senate seat to Republicans, was rewarded for her party loyalty by Governor Rick Perry.  Perry just appointed Stephanie Simmons to the Risk Management Board of Texas.  This Board makes recommendations concerning risk management of insurance, particularly that along the coast.  No one has been able to uncover any particular qualifications for Ms. Simmons holding this position other than the fact that she obviously was of great service to the Republican Party when she ran as a Democrat.

Despite the crisis of a 27-billion dollar shortfall, this past week found the House busy flailing away at some of the issues our Governor deemed to be emergencies. One day the House spent almost all of the morning session debating and passing a resolution giving advice to the U. S. Congress on how to balance budgets.  It seemed to me it could be likened to a seminar given by priests on how to develop good marital relations.

A tiny bit of good news emerged this recent week in Austin, however.  It now appears at least some leading Republicans in the House are not going to walk lock-step down Governor Perry’s desired path of not touching the “rainy day fund.”  The probable chairman of the House Public Education Committee has indicated he favors tapping at least a part of the 9.5 billion dollars in that fund to make up for the 5-billion dollar shortfall in this biennium’s budget for education.  During the current biennium Texas school districts are likely to get 5-billion dollars less from state aid unless the Legislature takes quick and decisive action.  It appears Governor Perry’s scheme to replace property taxes with a business tax in Texas is off by 5-billion dollars per year.  The Perry tax produces about that much too little to fully fund educational needs each year.

There is an old saying about two different types of military leaders.  There are “do as I do” officers and “do as I say” officers.  It appears the current statewide leadership falls in the latter category.   While demanding that institutions like Lamar University return approximately 10% of the money they have been appropriated to help with the shortfall, I have yet to read of any state leader who has offered to take a 10% pay cut.  This includes our Governor who is living in a $100,000 a year rental using up approximately $40,000 a year for landscaping. 
I can only hope that somewhere our current leadership in Austin is working on a booklet of advice  for our youth on how to compete in this world economy with the better educated young people from India and China.  If we continue on cutting the budget at any price pathway, this is where we’re headed.

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