The campaign to scare educators into staying away from the polls has now widened to include a group with a deliberately misleading name and a Texas-sized reputation for mean-spirited political intimidation.
Empower Texans has joined the attack against educators. This group’s goal is to weaken and privatize public schools enroute to shrinking state government. It was founded by a superwealthy West Texas energy businessman named Tim Dunn, who home-schooled his own children, founded a private, religious school in Midland and has made vouchers a major priority. There may be nothing wrong with the rich getting richer, but not by taking our tax dollars away from our public schools.
The “empower” part of Empower Texans applies only to those few Texans who, like Dunn, are wealthy and view government as an obstacle and public education as a lucrative profit center waiting to be tapped. So, it is very important to them that educators don’t vote.
According to a recent report in Quorum Report, a lawyer for Dunn’s group has written an intimidating letter to school district employees around the state urging them to blow the whistle on any colleagues who they suspect of using district resources to promote voting in the March primaries.
The letter followed a politically inspired “legal” opinion by Attorney General Ken Paxton, also trying to throw cold water on efforts by educators, including many superintendents, to encourage school employees to vote and to make education their priority issue when casting ballots.
There is no evidence that any school district is misusing tax dollars to support selected candidates, and, despite the attorney general’s suggestion, there is no law against school employees drumming up a large voter turnout among their colleagues. One of the traditional purposes of public education is to foster a sense of civic responsibility among students, and that is easier to do if teachers and other adults in their lives set the example.
But Dunn obviously realizes that educators who vote education first are not going to be voting for any of Empower Texans’ slate of candidates, people who win Dunn’s backing by promising to vote for vouchers and cut education spending.
To secure his goals, Dunn also wants to elect a new speaker of the House who will promote vouchers and squeeze funding from neighborhood public schools. House members who are elected this year will choose the next speaker, the successor to Joe Straus, who repeatedly blocked the Dunn-Dan Patrick-Greg Abbott pro-voucher agenda.
Empower Texans’ letter to school employees is sprinkled with words and phrases like “crimes” and “illegal behavior,” all designed to intimidate educators from voting or encouraging others to vote.
Dunn and his cohorts should be ashamed of themselves, but they aren’t. So, it is up to educators to let them know what you think of their tactics. Don’t be intimidated. Go vote and Vote Education First! And take a few dozen of your colleagues with you.