Texas’ newest United States senator is attracting quite a bit of attention in Washington. Apparently, Ted Cruz is stepping on lots of toes in his early entrance into the good ole boys club known as the United States Senate. Recently, Cruz was criticized for inferring former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the president’s selection for Defense Secretary, had taken money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and/or North Korea. He further alleged Iran had celebrated the nomination of Hagel as Defense Secretary of the United States. The allegation concerning Iran’s celebration turned out to be patently false. Newly minted Sen. Cruz had to admit he had absolutely no proof of the allegations or inference that Hagel had taken money from a foreign country. In answer to criticism, Cruz defiantly said he was sent to Washington to speak the truth. Unfortunately, smearing a person’s reputation by innuendo without a grain of proof does not constitute brave use of free speech. It exemplifies cowardice in using such tactics as these to besmirch someone’s good name just to gain political attention.
On the scene in Austin, our governor, Rick Perry, continues in refusing to accept about $90 billion in federal money that would provide decent medical care for poor people in Texas, particularly poor women. At least 11 other Republican governors have chosen to implement the federal plan, but Gov. Perry remains steadfast in his opposition. Unfortunately, women and children in Texas will pay the price for Gov. Perry’s political folly.
It is ironic that in a state governed by a majority of Republicans who are so focused on avoiding waste of government dollars, because of Texas’ refusal to modernize and reform its criminal justice system, taxpayers spent $65 million on wrongful convictions.
Another indicator of where our Republican led Legislature’s priorities are can be found in the recent action at the legislative committee level. A proposal was presented in a House committee raising the smoking age to 21. No doubt cigarette smoke is the root cause of a plethora of ailments, many of which cause Texas’ citizens to be dependent on state health programs. Someone thought it was a good idea to limit access to tobacco at least until Texans are 21 in hopes they would make a more mature and responsible decision. The committee turned the measure down, apparently not because they didn’t believe it was a good health measure, but because its members realized to reduction in the sale of cigarettes by limiting the sale to individuals to 21 years old and younger would cost the state $46.2 million in taxes. Money or health? It seems too many of our politicians continue to make wrong choices.
One of the goofiest bills introduced this session in the Texas House of Representatives is one making it illegal for a Texas peace officer to enforce any federal law that might restrict access to weapons. It’s hard to understand how this could be a valid constitutional law, particularly in view of the fact that peace officers, like most politicians, are required to take an oath to defend the Constitution and laws of this state and of the United States.
Dan Patrick, current chairman of the Senate Education Committee and former right-wing radio talk show host, has proposed that school districts in Texas give property not currently being used for educational purposes to charter schools for the handsome price of $1. Such a measure would cause a double whammy on public education. First, it would require them to rid themselves of possibly valuable real estate that might be sold and the revenue then used for public education. Second, it would further foster charter schools, whose existence reduces access to tax dollars for public education. Currently, the state pays approximately $4,000 per student to public education. When a student chooses to attend a charter school, the money follows the student, thus reducing the allotment for the district in which the charter school exists. In other words, for every student enrolled in a charter school within a regular school district, the district loses approximately $4,000.
For years, Texas leadership has been fond of boasting that Texas is a “pay as you go” state. We have a constitutional amendment that requires any money budgeted by the Legislature each two years must be within the parameters of revenue expected to be raised during the same period. Unfortunately, our conservative governor’s leadership led us to a different path as to highways and bridges. While bragging about no new taxes and complaining of Democrats who like to tax and spend, Gov. Perry and his appointees to the Texas Department of Transportation obtained permission to borrow against the credit of the state and currently have us approximately $18 billion in debt, much of which went to building roads taxpayers have to now pay to drive on.
Conservatives are fond of saying you can’t fix education by throwing money at it. One distinguished educator has retorted, “No one knows because it has never been tried.” The past 2011 legislative session balanced the Texas budget on the backs of public education, shorting school districts in Texas $5 billion. This resulted in the layoff of more than 100,000 public school employees, about half of whom were teachers. A nonprofit group called Educate Texas in a recent scholarly study concluded that even struggling students can be salvaged and made to perform at above-average levels by a committed and qualified teacher.