Friday, October 20, 2006

"Rick Perry is one of the least effective governors in Texas history."

Our Views

Elect Strayhorn governor of Texas

October 20, 2006

The Victoria Advocate
Copyright 2006

Rick Perry is one of the least effective governors in Texas history. Fortunately, the Texas Constitution does not give him much power, preventing him from doing as much damage as he otherwise might inflict on the state.

Rather than tackle the critically important but difficult challenge of reforming how Texas funds its public schools earlier in his time in office, Perry preferred instead to push for off-cycle congressional redistricting, which was premature, and to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions, which solves no real problems.

Only after the Texas Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that the state's system of funding public education was unconstitutional did Perry finally, at long last, decide to do something.

And while the new business tax former state Comptroller John Sharp designed for Perry is a good start on tax reform, it is far from the end. Unfortunately, we doubt that the governor will go further with much-needed changes in how Texans fund their state government.

In lieu of reforming the state's tax system to fund new public highways, Perry pushed for a gargantuan network of toll roads across the state that is larger than needed and will take too much privately owned land off of the tax rolls. The primary beneficiary will not be the people of Texas, but rather the Spanish-controlled consortium that will build the Trans-Texas Corridor and collect the tolls.

Perry's Texas Transportation Commission refused to make the state's contract with Cintra-Zachry public, even after Attorney General Greg Abbott ordered its release. Only when public pressure in this campaign season grew irresistible did Perry's commission back down and follow Abbott's order.

The governor's closest allies are deep-pocket bag men such as James Leininger, who seeks to undermine public schools and divert much-needed money from their operation, and anti-tax zealots such as Grover Norquist, who wants to shrink government until it is small enough to fit in the bath tub, where he then would drown it.

Never mind the millions of Texans who need properly funded public schools and state and local government services.

Fortunately, Texas voters have two credible choices to replace Perry and give the state a more effective governor, despite the office's constitutional limitations.

The first is Carole Keeton Strayhorn, the state comptroller who is running for governor as an independent after having been both a Democrat and a Republican.

Strayhorn has an impressive record of public service. Before winning her current post in 1998, she was a member, then president of the Austin school board, the mayor of Austin, a member of the state insurance board and a member of the Texas Railroad Commission.

The centerpiece of Strayhorn's campaign is public education, an issue with which she has been involved through most of her adult life. She wants real results from Texas public schools, rather than teaching the TAKS test and using it as a tool for punishing schools and teachers. She wants to recruit and retain qualified teachers by paying them adequately. And she wants a long-term, reliable source of state funding of public schools.

Strayhorn wants to rescue state government from the deep-pocket special interests that dominate it today and return it to the control of the people of Texas. As an independent, she pledges to work with both parties in the Legislature to bridge the partisan divide that hinders effective governance. And she opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The second is Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee. The former U.S. representative and Houston City Council member also makes education the centerpiece of his campaign. Like Strayhorn, he wants to ensure that Texas public schools are properly financed for the long term.

More than that, Bell wants to create a Bipartisan Commission on Public Education to examine in depth the mission of the state's public schools in the 21st century, with the heightened competitiveness of a global economy. How and what students are taught and learn are as important as how the schools are funded, Bell correctly emphasizes.

The Democrat called the Trans-Texas Corridor "a case study in corruption and cronyism" and pledges that one of his "first acts as governor would be slamming the brakes on the whole plan."

Both Bell and Strayhorn support embryonic stem cell research and using state money to make Texas a world-class leader in this research, with the hope of treatments and cures for an array of diseases and disabilities.

In our view, the nod goes to Strayhorn because she has a proven record in state government and knows how it is supposed to work. Running as an independent gives her a rare opportunity to work fairly with both parties and make more effective use of the governor's bully pulpit to do what is good for Texas and all Texans, not just for one or the other party or deep-pocket special interests.

© 2006 The Victoria Advocate: