Empower Texans

Farney — the only choice for education in GOP House 20 race


State Rep. Marsha Farney of Georgetown is one of a number of Republican legislators whom TSTA is supporting for re-election because they value public education, the only issue on which TSTA bases its endorsements. Farney is a former, award-winning teacher and school counselor and a public school parent who knows first-hand what works and doesn’t work for school children.

During the last legislative session, she also advocated successfully for an additional $768 million for TRS-Care, the health care program that is so crucial to the well-being of thousands of retired teachers.

Farney is a conservative Republican whose supporters also include the National Rifle Association and the Texas Alliance for Life, an anti-abortion rights group. Despite her conservative credentials, however, Farney is being targeted for defeat by right-wing ideologues in her District 20 primary race.

Her opponents, including such extremist groups as Empower Texans and Texas Eagle Forum, want to run state government off the cliff, and lawmakers like Farney and House Speaker Joe Straus, whom she supports, are standing in their way. These extremists want to all but shut down state government, slashing public education and other public services.

Farney’s primary race is important because District 20 is heavily Republican and the primary winner will represent the Central Texas area in the Texas House during the 2017 legislative session and, perhaps, for years to come. Farney has earned re-election.

So has Joe Straus, who has two right-wing opponents in his Republican primary race in his home district in San Antonio. And so have several other incumbent Republican supporters of Straus who are being targeted by the same groups in other races throughout Texas.

The anti-Farney and anti-Straus forces are not above over-exaggeration and downright lying in their efforts to shove state government back into the 19th century. Some also are not above spreading anti-Semitic innuendo, which has entered both the Farney and Straus races. Straus is Jewish.

Running against Farney is Terry Wilson, a retired Army colonel and wounded battlefield veteran, who says good things about education but whose main interests seem to be fighting “liberals” and Joe Straus. That’s why Empower Texans and the Texas Eagle Forum are supporting him. They have no interest in public education, except to dismantle it.


A dilemma for business: education or extremism?


To most educators and others who actually care about improving the future of Texas, Michael Quinn Sullivan is not a household name, and thank goodness for that. He is an agitator for a misnamed group called Empower Texans that basically wants the Legislature to stop spending tax dollars for public schools, health care, highways and just about any other public service critical to moving Texas ahead in the 21st century. He was one of the reasons the Legislature left several billion dollars of taxpayer money sitting unspent in the Rainy Day Fund while slashing $5.4 billion from public education two years ago.

Sullivan’s massive email campaigns and other intimidation tactics in Republican primary races in recent years have helped replace some Republican legislators who dared to be moderate with ideologues from the far right who share Sullivan’s cut-cut-cut litany.

In the blog post linked below, Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka notes that Sullivan finally may be getting some pushback from conservative members of the business community, donors who have a history of supporting Republican legislative candidates but now fear that the continued growth of extremism in the Texas Republican primary is, indeed, bad for business – particularly their businesses.

Contractors, after all, need tax dollars to build highways, and employers need a strong, educated workforce.

It is a war that is developing, not only in Texas, but also nationally.

The business community’s growing dilemma also makes me wonder what business contributors will do in the governor’s race. Traditionally, they have heaped millions on Attorney General Greg Abbott. But does Abbott continue to get their support in his race for governor? So far, Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign has ignored education, health care and every other legitimate Texas need in favor of looser gun laws and other hot-button, right-wing issues that won’t educate a single child or build a single mile of highway.

It’s something to think about.



Trying to shed light on education foes


Yesterday, the House passed and sent Gov. Rick Perry a bill designed to help teachers, parents and others who value public schools learn a bit more about who is paying for political efforts to undermine public education in Texas. Some political pundits around the Capitol, though, already are predicting the governor will veto the bill. And, they may be correct because the measure likely would step on the toes and inconvenience many of the governor’s own political backers.

The bill, SB346, would require certain nonprofit groups that actively engage in political advocacy to publicly report their larger financial donors to the Texas Ethics Commission. The bill was sponsored by two moderate Republicans. Its apparent targets include conservative groups such as Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which use emails, phone calls and similar tactics to bully and stir up opposition in Republican primaries against moderate legislators who dare to waver from the hard, right-wing ideological line.

They were behind the defeat two years ago of an amendment in the House that would have earmarked $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to restore part of the $5.4 billion in education budget cuts. The House approved the bipartisan amendment one day. But after an overnight email and phone blitz threatening retaliation in the Republican primary, a number of Republican legislators switched their votes the next day and helped defeat the amendment.

They also helped defeat several moderate Republicans in primary races last year and have tried unsuccessfully to unseat House Speaker Joe Straus because, in their eyes, he is “too moderate.”

Moreover, they are able to conduct their ideological scorched earth campaign without having to report who is backing them financially. For all we know, it may be a handful of ideological, multibillionaire businessmen who, for selfish reasons, want to destroy sound government environmental and economic regulations and replace public schools with new opportunities for online vendors, for-profit charter operators and private schools.

Whatever their motives, they have been influential in the right-wing attack on public education that continues today. And, they are hiding behind a reporting exemption that doesn’t apply to most other players in the political process. The Texas State Teachers Association, for example, supports candidates in legislative and school board races, but it does so through a political action committee whose contributions and expenditures are publicly reported.

This is not a partisan bill. It also would apply to Democratic-leaning groups that also may try to conceal their contributors. It is interesting, however, that the measure was sponsored in the House and the Senate by Republicans who obviously are tired of the intimidation tactics and their anonymous donors.

The fate of the bill, which was approved earlier in the session by the Senate, is now in Gov. Perry’s hands. It will be interesting to see what the governor does with it, since it clearly could force some of his conservative supporters to be more transparent in their activities. If you like the bill, contact his office – he has a website — and urge him to sign it.