Monday, September 28, 2015


There is an oft-repeated old saying that 'when leaders lack vision, the people perish.'  I’ve known for a long time that our ability to see things on earth is limited by the curvature of the earth.  I also learned while in the Naval Officer Candidate School that you can see for 15 miles from the bridge of a destroyer.  Clearly, the higher you are elevated, the further you can see. 

Unfortunately, this does not necessarily seem to apply to the height of political office which one has reached.

It seems too many of our leaders in high office in Texas either can’t or refuse to look into the future — particularly as to education.  Many business leaders in Texas have recently come to the realization that we are becoming more and more ill-prepared to meet the requirements of an educated workforce necessary for a profitable future.  While almost all Texas politicians promise and espouse first-class education, obviously too many are ready to sacrifice quality education on the altar of austere budgets.  Instead of funding education first in Texas we are too often met with platitudes, outright false statements, or off-the-wall ideas for quick fixes to our educational shortcomings.

The most prevalent motto of those who want to shortchange public education in Texas is, “You can’t fix it by throwing money at it.”  The quick response is, “In Texas, no one has ever tried.”  Although money may not be all of the answer, you certainly cannot have quality education without adequate funding.  Texans should ask themselves — after repeated findings by various courts that Texas public education funding does not meet constitutional standards — "why does the Legislature insist on waiting for yet another court finding?" 

In higher education the Legislature has made it more and more difficult for Texans of all stripes to receive a college education.  Probably the biggest impediment occurred when the Legislature gave away its own power for setting college tuition and delegated it to various boards of regents.  If you want to talk about taxation without representation, this is a fine example.  Nobody gets to vote on the regents who set the cost of educating our college-bound children.  College tuition has more than quadrupled since that time, and we are met with few real answers about how to improve the situation.  Rick Perry, for example, keeps touting his plan for a $10,000 education.  More than likely, our colleges could provide a $5,000 education, but it would not prepare young Texans for the requirements of future employment.  Additionally, it would not give the broad perspective to college graduates which we expect from colleges of national reputation.

The business community has recently issued a number of warnings concerning future preparation of the Texas workforce.  A recent article published in numerous papers around the country has caused some of our leaders to propose a 60/30 plan.  This would provide that 60% of our population receive a postgraduate degree by the year 2030.  Studies reveal, for example, that the number of post-graduate degree holders in Texas lags behind California by several percentage points.  Texas lags behind the national average by 2-3 points, and is only ranking that high because of in-migration of workers from other parts of the nation.  I certainly ascribe to the 60/30 plan and believe it to be a bold, forward thinking plan.  Unfortunately, a 60/30 plan, or even a 50/50 plan, would not work unless our elected leadership in this state develops a different attitude about public and higher education.  Funding education on the cheap will only result in Texas continuing to lead the nation in poor folks.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


My wife and chief critic vetoed my recent idea of an article on America’s dumb majority. After some reflection, I concluded it’s not the people — it’s the malady. Democracy, self-government, and freedom’s greatest enemy is  . . .  ignorance.

I often say, anyone wanting to know about the Texas Legislature should have asked me when I was first elected. As a newly-elected freshman member of the House, I knew everything that needed knowing — at least I thought I did.

The more I confronted big problems with what I believed to be simple answers, the more I learned about how complicated the problems were. A great example of problems faced by our system of government is inadequate funding.  The simple solution touted by would-be elected leaders, in order to fund their various promises during the election cycle, is elimination of waste. Unfortunately, once elected, politicians find enough waste very illusive. Most quickly discover that one constituent’s waste is another constituent’s necessity.

Another great example of attacking a complicated problem with a simple solution occurred when I was elected was insurance. As a young man seeking office and listening to voters, one of the main complaints was the fact that automobile insurance in Texas was higher than most other states. My solution was simple — pass a bill requiring our regulatory body on insurance to mandate lower rates. I soon discovered, after being elected, it is quite possible for the Legislature to mandate the sale of insurance at lower rates. Unfortunately, the Legislature does not have the power to force insurance companies to sell Texans insurance. Therefore, if we mandate lower rates, we are left with the problem of insurance carriers leaving the state.

A question each voter should ask themselves is how can those with lack of knowledge become great leaders. Conversely, how can people who are ill informed wisely choose our leaders. Education, probably the greatest responsibility of state government, is a great example. No function of state government will have a greater impact on our quality of life, our living wage, or the future of our children as education. Sadly, I would wager without fear of losing, not one Texan in ten can explain with any accuracy how we fund our public schools. Nor could most voters remotely describe how our colleges and universities are funded. Poll after poll of American citizens reveals a lack of knowledge of how we govern ourselves. A small minority of voters can even name those holding high office — from Lt. Governor to chief justice of our supreme court.

Unfortunately for us, the skills required to be elected are not necessarily those required to be a great leader. Problems faced by our state and national leaders are more complex than they appear. Broad and intricate knowledge of our needs are essential to finding real solutions. Our leaders need to possess great knowledge and skill to meet those challenges.  

Boastful and simple remedies and rhetoric will not serve us well. We need to be better informed about issues, qualifications and needs when choosing our leaders if we are to expect our leaders to be better informed of our needs and how to respond to them. 

The real key to learning is the realization of how much there is that we don’t know.  When we who vote on our elected leaders come to this same conclusion about government, we will all be better off.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Day -- Past and Future

"Labor--human activity that provides the goods and services in an economy; [or] service performed by workers for wages..."

The earliest record of a Labor Day celebration goes back to 1882 in New York, sponsored by the local carpenters' union. Not until 1887 did Congress establish the first Monday of each September as a day to commemorate and celebrate labor in the United States. The recognition of labor by Congress, however, did not stop many of labor's problems in the 19th Century. When public employees in New York attempted a mass demonstration in 1888 to demand an 8-hour work day, they were attacked by the New York police department and many were shot.    

Tim Lyne, writing for a publication called "Gawkers," has written that Labor Day is a rip-off and nothing more than a reason for getting drunk in your yard.  Hopefully, Labor Day means more to most Americans than Mr. Lyne's assessment.

Unfortunately, organized labor and laboring people in general have been on a steady decline in the past few years.  The influence of organized labor has taken a serious nosedive in the past decade, and apparently continues to wane.  The wage disparity between people who labor for a living and the wealthy in America has greatly widened and continues to grow.

CEOs and managers of large corporations earn as high as $20-25 million per year while many workers struggle to exist on $7.00 an hour, many working two jobs to make ends meet. Part of labor's problem and declining influence can be laid to the attack on labor beginning with Ronald Reagan's firing of air controllers and other measures such as the Governor ofWisconsin’s attack on public employees and unionization.

The real problem, however, is the fact that quite possibly organized labor has done too great a job of empowering a part of the labor force, while leaving the other behind. Highly skilled union workers such as electricians, operating engineers, and refinery operators enjoy extremely high wages and benefits while others such as fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees and many government employees continue to lag. Many pensions, both public and private, are grossly underfunded and on shaky ground.

Political policies continue to make the wealth gap even worse. Our tax policy provides that the wealthier you become, the less percentage of your income must be dedicated to taxes. While politicians claim to revere hard work and the sweat of laboring people, investment of money is treated far better than regular wages earned by workers for tax purposes. Medicare and Social Security have been underfunded and ignored for years while health care costs accelerate and lead to more bankruptcies than any other cause in America.

The prospects for working people in America do not appear to be any rosier than they were several years ago.  In my opinion, this is primarily because too many former working people who have supposedly "made it" and enjoy great pensions--mostly brought about by organized labor--have forgotten their roots, or have turned their backs on the organizations most responsible for their current, comfortable status in life. And, too many working folks either fail to take the trouble to go vote, or fail to determine which politician's interests coincides with theirs. 

I am constantly amazed and appalled at working people who vote for members of a party which would dismantle their Social Security, help destroy the retirement programs they have earned, slam the courthouse door preventing jury trials for those who have suffered abuse, disease, or injuries while their employers enjoy vast profits.

Labor Day should be a day of reflection by all as to the honor we should bestow on those who have built a great nation and have created a social environment second to no other nation in the world--and to the policies which could destroy the underpinning of it all.

Happy Labor Day.  I can only hope we have many more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Great Again

I confess that as I rise and place my hand over my heart to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag, I still get a special feeling.  A little tingly and pride in the fact that I have the privilege to be an American.  It saddens me to hear politicians rant and rave about how we need to make America great again.  I happen to believe that with all of its flaws, America is still great.  Were it not, why would so many people want to come to our country?

Recently I read in the paper about a group passing a petition around Texas urging Texas to secede from the United States.  I can’t imagine something more stupid than someone wanting to renounce their American citizenship.  They obviously have failed to stop long enough to count their blessings.

The United States of America still provides us with a defense from foreign countries by having the largest and best military establishment anywhere in the world.  No place is better than America to be able to realize your ambitions. Few places in the world give us the opportunity to worship the God of our choice in the manner we choose.  Where else in the world can we raise our voice and call our leaders–even our president–names if we so choose?  Elsewhere in the world such conduct would land us in prison or worse.  When we take the time to add up the benefits, America is head and shoulders above any other nation in the world in greatness.

It disturbs me to see leading politicians readily announcing that their greatest goal is to see that our duly elected president does not succeed as president.  Of course, there are many detractors among our fellow citizens today about the shortcomings of government.  But I am confident that in the end we will overcome unwarranted criticisms and continue to demonstrate to the world that America is still great.

One of the disturbing factors in our current political atmosphere is that so many citizens appear to want people who hate government--and who seem to know the least about its administration--to take the reins of leadership.  What if you were to read in the want-ads an ad from a young mother advertising for a sitter for her children stating she wanted someone who had never changed a diaper and even disliked children?  I trust most of us, if not all, would denounce such a wrongheaded approach to the care of precious children.  Why then should we follow the same idea by electing people who would like to drown American government in a bathtub?

While I still firmly believe in America, I do believe a danger exists–that danger being that too many Americans, for some reason, have decided to cease being good citizens.  I say this based on recent trends and statistics concerning voter participation.  An older gentleman once spoke to me about personal skills, saying you should always remember to use them or lose them.

Nothing could be truer than applying the same idea to informed citizenship.  Less than 10% of Texans chose to participate in the past statewide elections.  A majority of that minority of citizens obviously believed it didn’t matter that the would-be chief legal officer of our state had admitted guilt to a third degree felony.  Electing someone of that ilk is not the fault of our system but the fault of citizens too dumb or too lazy to delve into the qualifications of those who would run our government. 

Please!  The next time you are tempted to buy into the cheap political slogan of “make our state great again” or “make our nation great again,” take stock in your own performance as a citizen and see whether or not you would grade yourself with A+, a failing grade or incomplete.