Sam Houston: The right choice for attorney general, education


Sam Houston, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, is the real deal. By that, I mean he has strong qualifications for the office, and Sam Houston is his real name. He isn’t one of those guys who make up strong ballot names to try to sneak into office and wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with the office if they were elected.

Houston, a highly qualified attorney from Houston, is running against Republican Ken Paxton, who has a record of violating state securities laws – which alone makes him unqualified to be the state’s top lawyer – and as a legislator voted to cut $5.4 billion from school budgets in 2011.

Paxton was fined $1,000 and reprimanded by the Texas State Securities Board a few months ago for soliciting investment clients without being registered with the state, as required by law. He also has solicited at least one client for an investment adviser without disclosing to the client that he was being paid by the investment advisor.

Paxton’s behavior is unethical, illegal and would immediately cast a cloud over the state’s top legal office should Paxton be elected. Educators also could expect Paxton to continue Attorney General Greg Abbott’s costly appeal of the court decision ordering the Legislature to enact a fair, adequate and constitutional school finance system.

Paxton is a darling of Tea Partiers, who nominated him in the Republican primary because they are driven by right-wing ideology, not the need for quality education and ethical government.

Sam Houston, meanwhile, has been endorsed by all the state’s major newspapers – which promote good government, not ideology — as clearly the best choice for attorney general.


Speaking of ideology, though, a member of the State Board of Education recently was wondering if the other Sam Houston – the hero of San Jacinto, president of the Texas Republic and early governor – may have been a “liberal.”

“I don’t know if he would like that (label) or not,” the board member was quoted in The Texas Tribune. “I just never hear Sam Houston referred to as a liberal. And those of us who liked Sam Houston want to keep him on our side.”

I don’t know how widely words like liberal and conservative were used in the political debate during the original Sam Houston’s day. But one incident during his career in Texas government is particularly telling. As governor in the period leading up to the Civil War, Houston opposed secession. And, when the Legislature decided to secede anyway, he was forced from office because he refused to pledge his loyalty to the Confederacy.

I would rate Houston as courageous, compared to the prevailing political sentiment in Texas at that time. But more importantly, he was on the right side of history, something that won’t be said about many of Texas’ current political leaders.

Consider a candidate’s education record, not promises


When Dan Patrick opens his mouth, claiming to support public education, you can be assured that two things will emerge – hot air and an untruth. (Lie is such an ugly word.)

The legitimate, pro-education candidate for lieutenant governor, Leticia Van de Putte, has released a new ad, accurately advising that, if you care anything at all about public schools and educational opportunity for every kid, don’t vote for Patrick.

Leticia’s ad (linked below) opens with Patrick talking out of both sides of his mouth during their televised debate last month. On one side of the screen, Patrick is pictured saying, “I’m really concerned about the dropout rate in our inner cities.”

Then on the other side of the screen, he adds, “And so we cut education.”

Patrick remains unabashedly unrepentant for voting in 2011 to slash $5.4 billion from public school budgets. And, he never has expressed any regrets for voting against the entire state budget, including all education funding, in 2013. So, if anyone really thinks Patrick is the least bit concerned about the dropout rate in inner cities – or anywhere else for that matter – you are deluding yourself.

Van de Putte voted against the cuts in 2011 and for the 2013 budget, which partially restored the education funding.

The only education agenda Patrick has is to starve public schools, while siphoning off tax dollars so a small group of cherry-picked students can get private school vouchers or attend corporate charters, where the bottom line is profit, not educational excellence.

If he is elected lieutenant governor and gets his way, the dropout rates in our inner cities – and everywhere else – will rise. And, Patrick will keep shedding crocodile tears.


We can’t survive on budget cuts, as Ebola is making clear


I have written repeatedly about the political shortsightedness involved in making budget cuts to public schools with the resulting loss of teachers’ jobs, larger class sizes and other negative impacts on children’s educations and the state’s future. Now, we have an even more dramatic example of the folly of building political careers on the flimsy foundation of budget-cutting. It is called Ebola.

The deadly disease’s recent arrival in the U.S. already has come perilously close to invading several Texas public schools. And, it is spreading fear and unease in a lot of other places, mainly because health care providers, although dedicated and selfless, have not been nearly as prepared for the disease as officialdom would like to be able to say they are.

Ebola has been ravaging three West African countries, including Liberia, for months, and this outbreak wasn’t the first on that continent. Since airliners are constantly crossing the Atlantic (in both directions), you would think that the folks in charge of safeguarding public health in the United States would have figured out long ago that, sooner or later, someone infected with Ebola would get on an airplane in western Africa and fly to an American city, any American city with an airport. Why were we so unprepared?

Actually, in government laboratories, at least, health officials and scientists have been working for years to try to get ahead of Ebola. Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, told the Huffington Post that NIH has been trying to develop an Ebola vaccine since 2001, but research has been slowed by – guess what? — federal budget cuts.

“Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready,” Collins said.

The lack of sufficient funding obviously has hurt scientists’ efforts to develop a vaccine or cure for the disease. According to the Huffington Post article, the National Institutes of Health budget has remained flat for the past decade, losing 23 percent of its purchasing power after adjusting for inflation. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s emergency preparedness budget has been cut deeply since 2006.

In Texas, the problem is worsened by the fact that millions of people are without health insurance – we continue to lead the country in that callous distinction – and may not be able to afford an Ebola vaccine even if one were developed. And, don’t forget, the powers that be in Austin have shut the door on billions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds that could ease that problem.

Budget-cutting is a popular mantra that has helped countless demagogues get elected to office and guide public policy, but ideological mantras are no way to govern, as the mounting Ebola problem is making painfully obvious.

One of those budget-cutting demagogues, Sen. Ted Cruz, who precipitated a federal government shutdown last year, now wants to impose a ban on travelers from West African countries. What we really need is a ban on electing more Ted Cruzes.



Abbott’s insensitivity includes disabled Texans and school kids


With Greg Abbott, hypocrisy and insensitivity to the needs of most Texans, including school children and people with disabilities, go hand in hand. And, that serious flaw is borne out in a statement an Abbott spokesman made to describe Abbott’s legal and political philosophy as attorney general.

The quotation was in an article, published in The Dallas Morning News, about how Abbott has repeatedly gone to court to fight against disabled Texans who have sued state government, seeking accommodations – services or facilities to make their lives more manageable — to which they are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It presents more evidence of how Abbott, who personally benefits from the disability act and won a multimillion-dollar settlement after suing over his own disabling injury years ago, has devoted much of his political career to blocking efforts by other Texans to receive compensation for similar life-altering experiences. This includes his efforts, as a Supreme Court justice and attorney general, to restrict settlements in damage lawsuits and claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

How does Abbott’s spokesman, Jerry Strickland, explain the hypocrisy?

“It’s the attorney general’s duty to zealously represent the interests of the state of Texas, and in these cases that meant raising all applicable legal arguments in litigation where Texas was sued in court,” Strickland said.


The state of Texas is more than the official seal on the attorney general’s office wall and more than Abbott’s cadre of well-heeled, financial contributors. The state of Texas also includes disabled Texans who are simply seeking help to which they are entitled, help to assist them with everyday living, services or facilities that in many cases are more modest than the lawsuit settlement that has helped Abbott continue to live his life.

For that matter, the state of Texas also includes millions of school children in hundreds of school districts that have sued the state over inadequate education funding. By continuing to fight that lawsuit, Abbott isn’t representing the best interests of those kids either or, for that matter, the best interests of the state as a whole.

After getting the help he needed, Abbott has been driven by a selfish ideological philosophy that makes him insensitive to the very real needs of many Texans. And, there is no reason to expect him to change, should he be elected governor.


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