Not too many years ago, Dan Patrick was simply a publicity stunt. Now, he could become the next lieutenant governor of Texas, in a prime position to wreak havoc on public schools and a host of other important public services. The mainstream media has all but inaugurated him to the state’s No. 2 office, assuming that people who purport to care about Texas’ future will vote nevertheless in November for the “inevitable” because he has an R behind his name.
Patrick won the Republican nomination by appealing to Texas’ right-wing political fringe, largely at the expense of the state’s emerging majority population. He likened the growth of the Hispanic population, including immigration from Mexico, as an “illegal invasion” that must be stopped by sealing off the border. And, he accused immigrants of bringing leprosy and other “third-world diseases” into the United States.
The rhetoric – which, for all we know, Patrick truly believes – worked because people who know better, the traditional Republicans who have turned their primary over to flat-earth ideologues, stayed home or held their noses.
No sooner, though, had Patrick won a low-turnout runoff – he won the votes of only 3.5 percent of registered Texas voters — than he already was trying to backpedal on his anti-Hispanic remarks in an effort to appear more “moderate” for a wider general election audience. Because of Republicans like Patrick, Hispanics have traditionally voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, and Patrick’s Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte, is Hispanic. Both are state senators.
It is unknown how heavy the Hispanic voting turnout will be in November because that voting bloc has not yet lived up to its potential, but it could be crucial not only to Van de Putte’s chances but also to the election prospects of gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis and other Democratic candidates. That is why Patrick and other Republicans enacted the photo identification law as a potential barrier to discourage many Hispanics from going to the polls, and this is the first general election in which it will be in play.
Texans who care about the future of public education have a lot at stake in the November election because the differences between Patrick and Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott, on one hand, and Van de Putte and Davis, on the other, are crystal clear.
Three years ago, Patrick voted for the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that hurt all the state’s school districts and struck particularly hard at property poor districts with large numbers of low-income, primarily Hispanic, students. And, he has been a long-time champion of diverting tax dollars from these schools — and the vast majority of Texas children — to corporate-run charters or to private schools in the form of tax-paid vouchers, which would benefit only a select few Texas students.
Abbott continues to defend the school budget cuts and the rest of the state’s inadequate, unfair school funding system. He also is an advocate of selective educational opportunities, including a pre-kindergarten proposal that could require 4-year-olds to take standardized tests.
Davis and Van de Putte fought against the budget cuts and, last year, led the fight in the Senate to restore much of the funding. They also are strong advocates for improving educational opportunities for all Texas kids.
While he was trying to reverse course on his anti-Hispanic rhetoric this week, Patrick was quoted in The Texas Tribune, “Before you can get someone’s vote, you have to respect them enough to go talk with them and explain who you are.”
I think his Republican primary campaign and record as a state senator have been explanation enough.