When was the last time Democrats filled a room in Gillespie County? I probably was not the only person wondering that when the curious squeezed into the Hill Country University Center H-E-B Community Room recently to hear Mike Collier, candidate for lieutenant governor.
The turnout was heavy on educators and more than a few centrist Republicans. They heard a reasonable candidate who is running against sitting Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the November general election.
Those in attendance heard a level-headed man make good prescriptions for what ails the State of Texas. A former certified public accountant, many people left thinking, “Let’s see, a CPA who can recognize budget tricks or the continuing drone of a former talk radio show host?”
Republicans have controlled the State House, the White House and both houses of Congress. Yet to hear them talk, one would think the Democrats still controlled everything and were “keeping them down.”
One lifelong Republican told me privately that there are two Republican parties — conservatives and extremists — and he finds it hard to recognize the values of his party in the extremist wing. The bark of this wing outsizes their bite.
Hopefully, people are coming to their senses and will eye some pragmatic, thoughtful candidates and tell the bomb throwers to go find something else to do. We hope the Texas House of Representatives will be led by another level-headed person, as was Joe Straus. The current legislature has made wedge issues the norm.
The Dallas Morning News put it this way in an editorial: “Conservative leaders such as Straus suddenly became part of the ‘problem’ with political forces on the right employing phrases like ‘the establishment’ and ‘the elite’ as nomenclature designed to identify Straus as one who wasn’t a ‘real’ conservative.
“In 2018, the recession is in the rearview mirror. The stock market is high, and unemployment is low. Now’s the time for the Texas Legislature to focus on real problems such as school funding, alternative energy and infrastructure.”
Texas also needs a thoughtful leader in the Senate to take Patrick’s place. Collier is like a lot of Americans — a Republican until that party drove off the cliff. Plenty of Americans, like myself, liked Republicans like George W. Bush but started feeling leery when the party began to embrace those who pushed it further to the right. When you stop espousing Christian tenets such as caring for “the least of these, my brothers,” and I was raised to think that party no longer gets to lecture on morality.
Collier reminded the crowd that when the Texas Legislature cut education funding by $5.4 billion, more than 11,000 teachers lost their jobs. And the legislature pulled the rug out from under teachers with no increase in stipends in 17 years, but always a promise of healthcare during their retirement years. Retired teachers now are dealing with increases in insurance premiums and deductibles of up to $1,000 a month or more. That’s ridiculous.
But everything, of course, will depend on who turns out to vote.
We’ve got politicians who reflect the will of the electorate now because only a slice of the electorate bothers to vote. For all the talk about the youth vote, they still don’t turn out.
In Texas, the median age is 34. But political consultant Derek Ryan said in the March primary votes, the average age of Democratic primary voters was 54. The average age of Republican primary voters was 60. It’s people nearest retirement who control the levers of power.
But it was good to see young teachers show up in force and ask good questions. Our sitting Lieutenant Governor Patrick is no friend of public education. We are spending less now, effectively, on public education than we did in 2008, even though our population and our needs have grown substantially. We’ve tagged him for being an extremist before and being more worried about private school vouchers and bathrooms than anything else.
Maybe, just maybe, some of that enthusiasm we saw at the Collier rally will translate to the voting booth in November.