Friday, August 30, 2013

Party Switchers

John Montford, former district attorney and senator from Lubbock, ran throughout his career as a Democrat in spite of being urged repeatedly to switch parties because of the district which he represented.  Montford once said he considered switching parties sort of like a sex change would mess up one’s reputation for consistency.

I’ve always considered joining a political party akin to joining a church.  Once a person commits themselves to a church, they also embrace the religious tenants or beliefs of that church.  Likewise, it appears to me those switching parties and becoming Republicans now embrace the core beliefs of the Republican leadership as espoused by Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Dick Cheney.

Those core beliefs, which have been well publicized, include abolition of social security, voting against equal pay for women, endorsing anti-union rhetoric and policies, believing government has no role in delivering health care to the citizens of this country, and believing that health care should be left to private enterprise such as insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical corporations.  

Republicans also obviously believe the Republican majority sitting in Austin can best tell what an injured citizen is entitled to rather than a jury of 12 of the injured person’s peers.  Were we to leave the trust of caring for the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the soil that produces our foodstuffs to the Koch brothers and Rush Limbaugh, that care-taking job would be left to the tender mercies of British Petroleum, Exxon and Chevron.

I strongly suspect, if you have the opportunity to meet one of these party switchers face-to-face, and ask which of these core tenets they truly believe in, they will quickly back peddle from most of them.

In plain English, these folks would rather switch than fight.  Harry Truman once said a person who would lead this country should have strong core values and beliefs.  By strong, he meant those beliefs you are willing to fight for rather than compromise.  Those folks suddenly realized they had always been Republican when it appears they will face some difficulty being re-elected as Democrats.  Had William Travis and his fellow Texans in the Alamo had the same attitude about rushing to join the majority, we would probably all be citizens of Mexico today and speaking Spanish.

My only consolation in all of this--seeing these folks suddenly realize they have been conservative Republicans all along and switch parties--was summed up by a friend of mine whom I chastised for doing the same thing in the Legislature.  He grinned a wry grin, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to be any better Republican than I was a Democrat.”

Standardized Testing

Imagine, if you will, a track coach whose high jumpers could not clear the bar at any height other than a bare minimum.  In conference with other coaches, the coach decided since his track team in training could not clear the bar, he would simply lower the bar so they would think they were excelling in high jumping.  Imagine the results when his team competed with others who had engaged in strenuous training.  This to many would seem like a ridiculous scenario, but it is one which apparently the State of Texas has decided to follow with regard to education. 

Following the Perot committee’s nationwide study concerning how to make education in Texas better, it was determined that testing students would at least give educators a benchmark of where they needed to concentrate their efforts.  Unfortunately, members of the Legislature went overboard with required testing.

Complaints have been overwhelming from school districts, educators and administrators that the number of tests required by the Legislature was so onerous the system was spending more time teaching the test than teaching the subject matter or cognitive thinking.  Although the recent Legislature made a significant stride by reducing the number of tests to be required of students throughout their public school career, the Commissioner of Education has taken a giant step backwards in preparing Texas’ students to be competitive in the worldwide market. 

Commissioner Michael Williams--former Railroad Commissioner and candidate for several other offices in Republican primaries--recently announced that he was cutting students more slack when it comes to required standardized testing.  Apparently Texas is looking bad because too many students were in danger of not graduating from high school because they could not pass the required tests.  Commissioner Williams is much like the high school coach whose teams could not get over the high bar, so they simply lowered the bar to make them think they were excelling in the high jump.  Reducing the testing standards simply amounts to “play like” education. 
It is no better than passing students from grade to grade whether or not they met the standards for moving forward.  Unfortunately, lowering the bar will make students feel better about themselves for a short time, only to learn hard lessons when they have to compete with better educated candidates for good paying jobs in the real world. 

Having too many students fail the standardized tests should not rally a call for lower standards, but more effort in teaching and educating young Texans to be ready for the real world experience when they get out of school.

Several studies have shown that students in other countries are beating the socks off Americans in general and Texans in particular in many areas of standardized testing.  Other studies have clearly shown that you get more out of students by demanding more--particularly when they are not living up to their full potential.  Texas students are not dumber than students their age in the rest of the world.  They are capable of learning, and we should encourage our politicians to demand excellence and hope that our children will respond with a greater effort so that down the line we are not exporting high-paying jobs, and so that once again the world is beating a path to America as an innovator in technology, learning and manufacturing.

Unchallenged athletes will never excel in competitive track meets.  Unchallenged students in the Texas education system will never win the future of innovative job creation in world competition.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Recently there has been a transformation in the political bent of David Dewhurst.  Prior to his disastrous run for the U.S. Senate, I’d always considered Lt. Gov. Dewhurst as a rational Republican who more often than not was inclined to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, after his defeat by Ted Cruz, Dewhurst has taken a sharp, right turn and appears now to be willing to put politics ahead of progress for the state of Texas.  

Small episodes sometime can be very revealing about the motivation and character of people.  In the recently completed regular session of the Legislature, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who controls the agenda of the Senate, had the opportunity to place before the Senate a solution to our highway dilemma in this state.  Unfortunately, he placed a vote for abortion above maintaining roads, bridges and highways in Texas.  Apparently, he did so to prove he was more conservative than other Republican potential candidates for office.  As a result of this choice, highway funding was never really addressed by the Texas Senate during the regular session.  

Not acting on highways in an expeditious manner was in part responsible for multiple sessions costing over two million dollars.

Dewhurst has fallen in line with other statewide officeholders in apparently caring more about their conservative image than the people of Texas.  Rick Perry, for example, has turned down billions of dollars in federal funding, which will go to other states, just to show how tough he is in opposing federal mandates.  Perry has done this at the expense of poor people and uninsured citizens of this state.  

Perry’s actions will assure that he has burnished his credentials as a conservative candidate for president while at the same time assuring that Texas will continue to have more citizens without health insurance than any other state in the union.

We should not leave out Attorney General Abbott, current odds-on favorite to be elected governor, in the scenario of placing politics above the needs of our citizens.  Abbott has wasted $2.5 million suing the government (our government).  Most of Abbott’s lawsuits against the federal government have been to oppose measures which would assure citizens of Texas clean air and water.  The remainder have been wasted on Abbott’s efforts to maintain partisan reapportionment and throwing roadblocks into the average citizen’s ability to vote for candidates of his or her choice. 

This kind of partisanship may be good for our politics.  It’s not good for progress.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


There is one good thing about the democratic political process. More often than not it unmasks phoniness, wrongdoing and hypocrisy.

Greg Abbott, our state’s attorney general, has been billed as the odds-on favorite to receive the Republican nomination as governor. Many believe it is at least two years too soon for the Democratic Party to emerge as a real contender and are peddling the thought that receiving the Republican nomination for governor is tantamount to being elected governor. 

Abbott’s primary opponent so far is Tom Pauken. Pauken is at least as right wing as Abbott and is a long-time street fighter. He is smart and tenacious. He has already brought to light several questions about our attorney general Abbott. 

Abbott’s self-promotional material and news releases would paint him as a tough-minded young man who, in spite of a severe handicap, persevered and is ready to lead the children of Israel (Texas) from the wilderness of federal government control. And he would also like us to buy the idea that he is somehow a great lawyer whose primary purpose is to defend the people of Texas. A very close look at Mr. Abbott will reveal that not only is he a hypocrite of the first order, but he is also less than the kind of lawyer the average Texan would want to have representing them.  

Pauken has revealed that while Mr. Abbott boasts about going to work suing President Obama he has not done a good job of “tending the store back home.” The Attorney General of Texas is charged with the responsibility for oversight of state agencies to assure that taxpayer dollars are not misspent as a result of fraud or mismanagement. A recent scandal published in most daily newspapers throughout the state has made it clear that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Oversight Committee is a black hole of mismanagement, if not outright corruption. 

This cancer agency, created by Perry, was awarded millions of dollars, and later the entity itself awarded very generous payments to people and agencies not properly vetted. While Attorney General Abbott was supposed to be watching the “store,” the help he assigned to do so missed most of the meetings of the committee and allowed the mismanagement to happen. Even if the attorney general’s office files a lawsuit to recoup our lost taxpayer money, there’s faint hope of success.

Mr. Abbott’s hypocrisy is further highlighted by the fact he was able to pursue his career as a lawyer because of receiving a huge settlement from a personal injury suit. Reputedly, the settlement was upwards of $10 million. Mr. Abbott sued a homeowner and a tree service after a tree fell on him while he was jogging in Houston. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Abbott’s sympathies do not extend to his fellow Texans who find themselves similarly victimized by the negligence of others. As soon as Abbott got himself elected to the Supreme Court of Texas, he did the best he could to pull the ramp up to keep other victims of negligent conduct from recovering reasonable damages for their injuries. As it happens, Abbott is an avid supporter of the constitutional amendment limiting damages when doctors commit malpractice and injure their patients. Of course now Abbott says it’s a different story for people suing doctors than suing homeowners.

Abbott’s hypocrisy goes even deeper. While picturing himself as a courageous person who has overcome the handicap of being a paraplegic, he has not been a real advocate or fighter for others similarly situated. Abbott, along with Perry, has been an opponent of the Affordable Care Act which would have delivered millions of dollars to Texas assisting people with serious injuries or maladies. Again, Abbott has placed his political philosophy above the needs of hundreds, if not millions, of Texans. In fact, Abbott wants to claim that, as a disabled person himself, he cares deeply about access to public buildings and other similar challenges for persons who are wheel-chair bound, while at the same time he would peddle the philosophy that, “I know how hard it is, and I have met that challenge.” 

We need to keep in mind there is a big difference between a person in a wheelchair with no income attempting to cope with the daily trials and challenges of earning a living and a lawyer in a wheelchair with ten million dollars in the bank.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


One of the few things many of my conservative Republican friends and I agree on is how much tax should be extracted from the people. I believe no more taxes should be assessed on voting citizens than is necessary to maintain the functions of government. If we are collecting too much, we should not put it in a savings account, but let the people keep it.

Recently the Republican leadership of Texas, led by Rick Perry, seemed hellbent on maintaining multi-billion dollar balances in the so-called Rainy Day Fund while many critical needs of the state go wanting. I suspect the only purpose of this, looking down the road for future slim budgeting cycles, is so that the leadership can draw on a taxpayer savings account and avoid having to face the possibility of looking at new or different taxes. 

A great example of the foolishness of having a savings plan while critical needs go unattended is the current debate over highway funding in Texas. Without a doubt, our roads and bridges are getting in such bad shape that our highway commission is seriously contemplating returning some of them to gravel roads. Yet, the great debate rages in the Legislature about whether or not to take some of the money that is currently directed into the Rainy Day Fund and use it for infrastructure.  

The ultraconservatives oppose taking one penny out of the Rainy Day Fund, apparently being unable to detect when a rainy day occurs in Texas. While preserving the Rainy Day Fund at the expense of education, health, infrastructure, highways and God knows what else, they stubbornly cling to the concept of stashing money away that is not needed for the current biennium–at least according to their budgetary view. This makes about as much sense as a family head-of-household--unable to afford to pay the rent, repair the roof, or fix the engine on their broke-down automobile--insisting on stashing away hundreds of dollars from each monthly paycheck in a savings account.

I still say, if our leadership doesn’t plan on using the money and can’t detect when Texas is in a rainy day situation, they should not be taking the money out of the pockets of taxpayers. A great case in point is the previous session where we ended up laying off hundreds of school personnel, doing away with many reforms related to class size, and in short, impairing the quality of public education in this state by refusing to tap into billions of dollars in the Rainy Day Fund.

A current proposal which has been suggested for submitting to the people would be to allow one-half of current revenue generated from natural resources to flow into the highway fund rather than going into the Rainy Day Fund.  Hopefully, the proposition will receive the two-thirds vote of both houses so the people of Texas will have the opportunity to vote on this idea.

Our current leadership reminds me of the man who owned an umbrella but did not have sense enough to know when it was raining.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Coming Politics

The political history of Texas has always been colorful. For many years, Texas was regarded as a one-party state–all Democrat. Some, however, would argue that Texas had always been a two-party state-- Democrats and conservative Democrats, the latter being nothing more than Republicans in disguise. The ultimate divide came when Governor Allan Shivers, a conservative Democrat, pushed through the Legislature a bill which would allow him to run for governor as a Democrat while supporting Dwight Eisenhower for the presidency on the Republican ticket.

Republican politics, which now control every statewide elective office in Texas, grew through a well-organized and well-financed party operation. Support for Republican candidates arose out of the Republican Party itself, which raised the money and financed and supported the candidates. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, had enjoyed too much success, and the party was mainly a debating society for Democratic political nerds to debate high-minded issues. The party itself did little to support candidates for office, particularly at the legislative level.

As a result of the Democrats’ prosperity, they had no one to fight with but themselves. On the other hand, the Republicans were establishing a well-disciplined party which for the most part had to bless various candidates for public office running as Republicans in order for them to stand any realistic chance of succeeding at the polls.

The coming election cycle finds Republicans in much the same condition as were Democrats several generations back. With the exit of Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas, the Republican Primary is faced with political fruit-basket turnover. The governor’s departure has caused the attorney general and former Republican state chairman to announce for office to succeed him. This leaves a vacancy in the attorney general’s office, along with a vacancy created by Susan Combs’ retirement as comptroller of the state. The Tea Party’s success in electing Ted Cruz over Lt. Governor Dewhurst has exposed Dewhurst as vulnerable to defeat in the Republican Primary and has attracted a host of candidates for that office. On top of it all, George P. Bush has announced for statewide office in Texas hoping the Bush magic will still prevail in the Republican Primary.

Of all the races, the most colorful and most hotly contested should be the race for Lt. Governor. All indications are that the current Lt. Governor David Dewhurst will seek re-election. He has already been challenged by the man he named as chairman of the Education Committee, Dan Patrick, right-wing conservative radio talk show host out of Houston. He is joined by Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson as well as Todd Staples, who is currently the best funded candidate for that office. Of course Dewhurst with his millions can self-fund his campaign, and Jerry Patterson, having authored the concealed-weapons-carry bill and having spent several terms in the land office, has built a solid base of grassroots support which he intends to trade on.

We political wonks should have an enjoyable election season watching all of the inner-party actions play out. The thing most of us will look for is how well Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment is adhered to by the current crop of office seekers in the Republican Primary: “Thou shall speak no evil of a fellow Republican.”