It seems to me that citizens who sincerely care about public education in Texas have too many good choices for governor this year. Normally, having more than one good option is a good thing, except during elections. This is because independents and “other party” candidates generally turn out to be spoilers in the process, except as in rare cases like the 1998 Minnesota elections when the outspoken Reform Party candidate, Jesse Ventura, was elected governor there. That’s why I believe in a two-party system. Unfortunately, the two major parties in the United States tend to polarize over “hot-button” issues like gun-control, taxes, funding for social programs, and abortion. But that’s a subject for another post.
As a teacher and a member of the ATPE (Association of Texas Professional Educators), I recently read the Fall 2006 ATPE News article, “Educators Hold the Trump Card on Election Day.” The four candidates for governor responded in this article to association questions on education. It was a great article, and if you haven’t read it, I do highly recommend it. But I think it was inappropriately titled. Why? Well, I’ll try to explain.
The three challengers all responded personally while Governor Perry chose to have a campaign staff member respond, which was most unfortunate, I think. This alone said something to me, but it probably went over the heads’ of most readers. I took it to mean that Mr. Perry has effectively written off educators’ votes to his opponents. He knows he is not likely to carry the teachers’ voting block in Texas. But he also knows that he probably doesn’t need to. This block will be pretty much divided between his three opponents, all three of whom said things that spoke to fixing problems consistent with educators’ recommendations and sympathies. The Governor’s spokes- person responded defensively, taking credit for legislative measures like Senate Bill 1691, which was intended to shore-up unfunded liabilities in the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) fund with punitive changes like the rule of 80 and increasing the minimum retirement age. This bill is expected to decrease the current $13 billion dollar liability, but only to the tune of about $1.5 billion. However, Mr. Perry, unlike the other three, does have a track record of actually doing something. The others could only offer campaign promises. All three challengers spoke against what they consider to be an over-emphasis on “rewards-based” TAKS testing. The Governor’s spokesperson strongly defended TAKS, as currently employed, which punishes “under-performing” schools regardless of the reasons behind students’ poor performance. But public opinion has been shown to be pretty much split on the value of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal mandate responsible for TAKS. So, it seems obvious to me that, whether you agree or not with Governor Perry’s assessment of where the problems lie with Texas education and what to do about them, educators do not, in fact, hold the trump card. Hold on now… hear me out.
In a state like Texas, a state that is solidly in the “red” column nationally, many folks are going to cast votes based on issues other than education, issues like taxes, law enforcement and immigration. And many teachers in Texas are die-hard Republicans, don’t forget. They’ll vote for Mr. Perry regardless of how he stands on education issues. Party loyalty in Texas is a tradition, don’t you know? Some who are not firmly committed to one of the two major parties (folks who are, for the most part, not Texas-born and Texas-bread), will vote for whomever they like. These are the beauty-contest voters, voters whose support all of the candidates are trying to win over. Then there will be some who may have been impressed with what “Grandma” Strayhorn or “Kinky” Friedman have had to say since the primaries earlier this year. But, since they voted in either of the two primaries, they cannot, by state law, sign petitions or campaign for independents, the candidates who have been attracting most of the media attention to the demise of Mr. Bell’s campaign. So, my prediction, for what it’s worth is this: 25 percent (perhaps less) for Bell, 15 percent (maybe more) for Grandma, 20 percent (more or less) for Kinky, and 40 percent for Perry. Congratulations, Mr. Perry.
Oh m’gosh! Y’all don’t suppose that one or both of the inde- pendent candidates this year are actually running campaigns at the behest of the Republican Party, do ya? Nah… But just suppose they were. Wouldn’t that just be a perfectly brilliant political strategy, one that’s right up there with the redistricting done by Republicans here in Texas back in 2003?
So, my conclusion is this: if Texas educators really want to see a change in the direction public education is headed, they will need to get together and collectively encourage one or both of the independents to step aside, effectively throwing their support to the remaining contender, democrat Chris Bell. Good as their ideas may seem to be, as I see it, the chances of either winning are extremely remote anyway, despite the growing tide of support for political independents in this state. But of course, by charter, none of our professional organizations in Texas can suggest that we do this. So, maybe our best bet is a letter-writing campaign that says, “Teachers, don’t waste your vote on a candidate that is not a true contender this year, no matter how much they may impress you by what they say. Check the polls before going to your polling place.”
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