He won’t avoid all the editorial boards…

Erin McPike, Real Clear Politics:

The longtime Texas governor has not been a candidate for a full two weeks yet, but multiple Republican operatives in the state have noticed that the Union Leader’s editorial page has not taken a jab at him in that time. And while Perry famously refused to sit with for interviews with the editorial boards of Texas in his re-election race last year, he’s already been in to meet with the powers that be at the Union Leader and granted the paper his first interview in the state.

Governor Perry goes and meets with an editorial board immediately upon entering the race. On first glance, it seems like a bit of a slap to the Texas editorial boards that got the cold shoulder in 2010.

There is a bit more sense to it, of course. The Union Leader‘s editorial board doesn’t know Perry, whereas by the time the 2010 gubernatorial race rolled around, Perry had visited many times with each newspaper’s editorial board over the previous decade…and pretty much all of Texas’ daily newspapers have cast a skeptical eye on the governor’s tenure in office.

Is this even relevant?

Texas Monthly is busily hyping their customary end-of-session best/worst legislator list, which has led others, such as the Texas Tribune, to kick off the almost as old guess the best/worst list drinking game.

Unsurprisingly, the Tribune’s group of political “insiders” thought that the “best” list would consist of mostly Republicans who suggested they should violate their promise to voters and raise taxes, and Democrats who accomplished….well…….I’ll get back to you on that one. (Except in the case of Senfronia Thompson, who did win the “most argumentative” title.)

On everyone’s “worst” list was Sen. Dan Patrick who, despite my disagreement with him on several issues, was successful in getting many of his agenda items passed into law (pending Perry’s signature of course).

This raises two important questions:

1. What constitutes a “best” legislator?

2. If it’s just a list of people who forward bills on issues with which the State’s political media happen to agree, does the list even matter?

To me a good legislator is one who is successful passing his or her agenda, even if I don’t agree. A poor legislator is one who forwards a plethora of bad (or poorly thought out) legislation that doesn’t stand a chance of passing given the current political environment.

Supporters of Rep. Thompson will be quick to point out her puppy mill bill as evidence of her “success.” However, if you remember, that bill was hotly contested to the surprise of many. As a matter of fact, in its original form it was probably un-signable by Perry. Changes in the Senate have probably made it palatable, if only just.

I would suggest that a list detailing the most effective legislators might be useful, but a list outlining Lege members who share policy priorities with the state’s political media just doesn’t add anything to the incomplete discussion we’ve already had.

Senior journos: Why oh why can’t Perry be heroic and raise taxes?

Earlier this month, R.G. Ratcliffe reflected almost wistfully on Gov. Bill Clements, and how he broke with principles and campaign promises to raise taxes by $5.7 billion:

I can’t help but recall the political flip of former governor Bill Clements, who won his 1986 election on a no-new-taxes pledge. During the 1987 Legislature, Clements went on a fifteen-city tour to oppose proposed tax increases to cover budget shortfalls caused by the collapse of oil prices and the savings and loan industry. It took Dallas businessmen Peter O’Donnell and Ross Perot to convince him that major budget cuts would harm the state’s future. A $5.7 billion tax increase was a bitter pill, but Clements swallowed it. “”Everybody had to do what was right, eventually,” Clements said at the time. “I think they have.”

The state is still waiting to find out what is right in 2011 (R.G. Ratcliffe, Businesses want the state spending, but how do they want to pay for it?, BurkaBlog).

Apparently, Wayne Slater took up the same theme in the Dallas Morning News this weekend. Because of the newspaper’s new paywall subscription model (which isn’t a great value proposition outside North Texas), the column isn’t freely available. But Slater offered nonsubscribers a condensed version on the Trail Blazers Blog:

Now, leading the cuts-at-all-cost approach to writing a state budget, Perry’s parted company with Bill Clements. Clements was the state’s first Republican governor in a century when he was elected in 1978. As we wrote in a weekend column , Clements was the beginning of the modern Republican Party that Perry – and the tea party – now call home. Said the state’s longest-serving Republican in the House, Tom Craddick : ” I love Bill Clements. I think he did a great job and really furthered the Republican Party of Texas. Without him taking the risk he did to run for governor and use his own dollars, we’d still be way back in a maze.”

Clements was a staunch fiscal conservative and championed lower taxes and more efficient government. In battling a huge budget shortfall 1987, Clements initially opposed new taxes but eventually compromised and signed a $5.7 billion bill to avoid damaging the state’s future. So would Clements, the father of Texas Republican conservatism, be welcome in today’s tea party. Probably not. — not in the tea party that Perry serves these days.

What is it with these senior political journos in Texas and their fascination with a former governor who broke with his principles and his campaign promises to raise taxes?

Yeah, yeah, we got it — it was “to avoid damaging the state’s future” — a variant of The Sky is Falling.

At least Slater got one part right: A pol who ran as a fiscal conservative in Texas and promised not to raise taxes — then decided to raise taxes by billions of dollars — almost certainly would not “be welcome in today’s tea party.” As much as this seems to confound Slater, we are equally confounded as to why senior political journos think abandoning principles and promises to citizens to raise taxes is somehow heroic?

The sky is falling

Texas, is toast.

Judging by the recent works of the state’s political media, we’re done, finished, kaput.

One conservative budget was all it took to push Texas across the tipping point to bankruptcy according to R.G. Ratcliffe, and toward a dystopian future according to (make sure you get this) sixth-generation Texan Lisa (l’il Red) Falkenberg. In today’s Houston Chronicle print edition (no web linky yet, part of ChronBlog’s “see, we’re adding value for print subscribers!” method of marketing) Patricia Kilday Hart suggests that our elected officials’ reticence to enact a soda tax is putting us on the fast track toward a future of Weeble children who wobble, and even fall down because they’re too uneducated to understand what a can of Coke is doing to them.

At the heart of all this gloom and doom is a thinly-veiled undercurrent of racism that flows like a swollen Trinity River beneath the narrative that only the wisdom of the Caucasian progressive can save the State’s uneducated from themselves. In L’il Red’s world, only the smartly educated “white folks” retreat to the safety of “gated communities” in a selfish, desperate ploy for survival as intelligent progressives such as herself live in apartments reliant on light rail and farmer’s markets for their daily existence. The refusal of said rich white patriarchs to bestow their knowledge on the great unwashed is the reason future Texas is destined to be more like Road Warrior, and less like the utopia that Falkenberg and her fellow travelers view as ideal.

The counterpoint to this thinking? Missing.

In Texas’ political media you won’t find the idea that excessive spending is more worrisome than making some cuts during lean times. You won’t find any worries about Standard and Poor’s recent threat to downgrade debt ratings, or that creating a generation of people dependent on Government services for their day to day needs is a bad thing. Charity is right out, so is business development and (gasp!) education reform. The idea that continually throwing money at an education system that hasn’t done the best of jobs when fully funded would be laughed out of the room in a thinking society. In Texas’ political media it’s viewed as Gospel. In today’s media landscape the very idea that schools should spend more time teaching children than pursuing social equity goals is met with scorn.

An alternative idea is that the sky is NOT falling, that Texas is currently taking steps to ensure that, when the money is back, there will still be a core set of services in place to develop. The MSM ideal is a state population that’s been taxed out of prosperity and a business climate that’s not hiring, not making investments, and not positioned to take advantage of the coming growth. If you believe there will be no coming growth, then you pen missives that depict future Texas as a bleak, unhappy place. That might forward a political goal but it’s not very productive in the general debate.

Is liberal 3rd party group lying about its ads?

UPDATE, 4/22 5pm: The overall ad buy is around $90k so far nationwide, per the FEC’s reports. $5937.50 was spent on radio against Farenthold and $3800 against Canseco. So House Majority PAC did put some money behind their buy, but so far it looks like the media buy was to get media coverage for their press release.

The Houston Chronicle reports that, “A new Democratic “Super PAC” began targeting [with attack ads] freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, on Thursday for supporting the House GOP budget. . .” The same group, House Majority PAC, is also “targeting” San Antonio Congressman Francisco Canseco.

Blake Farenthold pictured giving a speech.

Corpus Christi Congressman Blake Farenthold

But are they really? Or did the Chronicle get duped? It looks like they did, but we won’t know definitively for another day or two because of campaign finance law.

Just two days ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a very similar press release for a larger — but very similar — group of newly elected Republican members of Congress. It used the same false claims about Republicans and Medicare that Democrats trot out every election cycle to try to scare seniors. They even sent DCCC Chair Steve Israel to MSNBC to talk about their so-called “ad blitz.”

One little problem: it was a total sham — there was no ad blitz. In one Indiana district the entire ad buy against a particular congressman was…$40. Yes, $40. The DCCC’s entire nationwide “ad blitz” cost $6000. Considering that Barack Obama is expected to raise a billion dollars for his re-election campaign, the DCCC got caught just sending a press release with the hope that gullible journalists wouldn’t double-check.

It’s likely that the House Majority PAC is similarly trying to pull a fast one on Texas journalists. The targeted group is very similar and the message is just about the same. First, the House Majority PAC just filed its paperwork with the FEC and started less than two weeks ago. They haven’t had much time to fundraise and don’t even have a website yet. Second, a PAC of this kind is required to notify the FEC within 48 hours once it crosses $10,000 in spending (which it would immediately if this were real). So far, it has not. Third, the House Majority PAC’s Youtube page has just three ads (one of them has just 50 views), and neither are for Canseco or Farenthold. The most likely explanation for this is that they are actually airing those three ads with a very small amount of money, but not airing the others.

Finally, it would be fairly pointless to spend real money airing attack ads when we have no idea what Canseco or Farenthold’s districts will look like after redistricting. It wouldn’t be unheard of for politicos in Washington, DC, to make this mistake, but it’s not terribly likely.

Journalists beware. Anyone printing the House Majority PAC attacks should do some factchecking. I’ll be checking the independent expenditure filings to see if the House Majority PAC actually made a real buy, but I’d be quite surprised.

Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka thinks Perry is akin to Birthers?

Burka writes:

[Burka quotes TNR article about how Trump is making dumb comments about protectionism, xenophobia, jingoism and Birtherism]

As I see it, Trump is borrowing from Rick Perry’s Texas playbook. Perry was the first extremist to emerge in this political cycle, the first to understand how virulent the right’s anger had become

As a writer and editor, Burka should know better. He’s likening Governor Perry to Donald Trump, which is simply mindboggling. That’s really the way Burka sees Perry — as someone akin to xenophobes, jingoists and Birthers?

That’s incredible. Just incredible. I’m sure Burka would say that he doesn’t really think that Perry is the same as Trump, but the fact that he would even think to make the comparision is unbelievable.

Beyond that, Burka misinterprets the poll result. Donald Trump will sink like lead if he ever becomes a candidate, because then all his craziness and liberal positions (wealth tax, universal health care, etc.) will become known. He’s essentially just an easy way for poll respondents to choose “none of the above.” Yet one single misinterpreted poll result leads Burka to conclude that Trump is using “Reagan’s strategy” and “a real threat.”

Republicans are in big trouble this election cycle–not here, because we have precisely the Republican constituency that will consume all the radicalism that’s fit for consumption–but in the rest of America. Unless something changes in the Republican field for 2012, or in the country,

Is this any different than 2003/2004, when a huge portion of the Democratic base blamed Bush for anything and everything and frequently likened him to Hitler? As far as I can tell, the biggest difference is that the media briefly took Rathergate seriously (until it was so thoroughly debunked that no one could believe it), whereas the media doesn’t take Birtherism seriously.

The (Texas higher ed) empire strikes back; O’Donnell out

As noted in today’s Daily Reading, the Texas higher education establishment finally managed to claim a scalp.

Here is advisor Rick O’Donnell’s parting letter (well worth a read).

As a consultant without much real power (the Austin American Statesman‘s overblown and silly “shadow chancellor” rhetoric notwithstanding), O’Donnell was always going to be in a tenuous position once administrators perceived him as raising questions about two sacred cows in the higher education establishment: Research and Academic Governance.

The higher education establishment was quick to frame O’Donnell’s questions about the value of research vis-à-vis other priorities as merely an attack on research — and those charges stuck for whatever reason (more on this below). The charges themselves are easy enough to explain. It’s hardly surprising that the higher education establishment really wanted to deflect scrutiny from its research practices, about which the general (taxpaying and tuition-paying) public knows very little. As someone who put in the time to get a Ph.D. from a research university and who maintains some interest in academia (while working in private industry), I can certainly understand that many university administrators at major research universities would prefer that the taxpaying and tuition-paying public not come to understand that undergrads at those institutions aren’t, in most cases, being taught by highly celebrated research professors, but instead (at the lower levels) by graduate students not much older than the undergrads themselves, sometimes in cavernous lecture halls.

As someone who might question whether the higher-education research-first status quo serves undergraduates, their parents (who have seen tuition bills skyrocket; academia and government are about the only two institutions that don’t respond to economic downturns), or taxpayers all that well, O’Donnell was going to be on shaky ground from the start. The fact that O’Donnell DID seem inclined to question that status quo — and that the mere governor of the state thought the questions worthy of consideration — also had to rankle the higher education establishment, which is not accustomed to scrutiny from public officials, or taxpayers, or even tuition-paying parents for the most part. Said administrators always cling to the notion of Academic Governance, which they present as necessary to preserve academic freedom so that institutions of higher learning can do their jobs (and which really is code for, “you elected officials and parents and taxpayers can just butt out, because we have Ph.Ds and know best how to spend your money and educate your children”).

The remaining question for me is why the state’s political media carried so much water for the higher education establishment, with so much one-sided reporting on the matter. So many stories were consistently framed poorly (Perry higher ed appointee hates research! Perry higher ed apppointee is shadow chancellor! Perry higher ed consultant screwed up a footnote once!) and without much balance (Are research and undergrad education in good balance? Is there too much emphasis on research for too little payoff? Who is teaching undergrads at the state’s larger research universities? Is there too much administrative overhead? These questions didn’t generally make it into the O’Donnell hit pieces). Why?

The best explanation I can come up with is some combination of the following:

  • O’Donnell arrived on the scene with some thoughts on higher education very different from those of the media’s normal sources inside higher education (who pushed back, effectively).
  • O’Donnell was perceived as a close associate of both Gov. Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, neither of whom can be called “favs” of the Texas political media.
  • Most nonacademics — including the state’s political media — simply don’t have a great understanding of undergraduate life at a major research university, and thus never grasped that raising questions about competing priorities (research versus undergraduate education, for example, or trying to measure the return on investment of research) is not merely an “attack” on research.

Still, that combination of factors isn’t a particularly satisfying explanation of how the Texas political media approached this story. So maybe it’s worth outsourcing to our smart readers — Is there some explanation for the media’s behavior that I’ve missed above? Please leave a comment.

“Spirit of Clay” lives on at Hearst Austin news bureau

Back in the early days of both Chronically Biased and then blogHOUSTON, one of our recurring topics was the Houston Chronicle Austin bureau, which allowed its bureau chief Clay Robison to preside over the news “objectively” six days per week as bureau chief and provide a reliably lefty editorial screed one day per week.

In private conversation, a Chronicle reader representative (not the current person who holds the title; the Chron seems no longer to have a use for the position) told me that we were absolutely right to question the arrangement.

At some point, Clay Robison left the newspaper, and that was that (for quite a while, anyway).

The Hearst Austin Bureau (the combined effort of Hearst newspapers based in San Antonio and Houston) seems determined to bring back the Spirit of Clay.

In the last week alone, Hearst Austin has run with “commentary” pieces from both Peggy Fikac (seemingly “overrepresenting” opposition to a Perry appointee since only one critic, a Dem, was named) and new addition Patricia Kilday Hart (who formerly broke some news and opined for Texas Monthly). Even before, Fikac’s commentary column had shown signs of disproportionately covering the issues and personalities of the Left. And even the Hearst Austin blog too often seems to be a vehicle for injecting the author’s opinion rather than covering news (contrast items three and four in Top Stories).

This isn’t to say we don’t like a good opinion columnist, or that a good opinion columnist can’t break news (the great example of the genre was the old Evans and Novak column). But for some reason, Hearst Austin seems to think its journos ought just to switch back and forth between reporter and editorial mode (apparently never getting the two confused because they’re superhuman *wink*), whereas most news organizations at least pretend to prefer a cleaner “division between the opinion pages and the news pages” (ironically, that last is from a Chronicle editor). While Hearst Austin’s “Spirit of Clay” approach is, at times, revealing, we’re not so sure it’s the best way to cover statehouse politics.

Paved with good intentions….

During any session of the Texas Legislature the sheer volume of bills that are brought to a vote makes it easy for many of them to pass with little thought or scrutiny.  One such bill is today’s effort by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) seeking to raise the fines and penalties for municipal traffic violations by $10, while also tacking $2 onto the state’s marriage fee. There’s a companion bill in the house, filed by State Rep. Naomi Gonzales (D-El Paso) that would raise the traffic fee by $15. The goal of these two bills is, in the eyes of the State’s progressive minority, obviously noble. After all, who could possibly be against using fines paid by law-breakers (albeit misdemeanor-breakers) to help fund legal fees for the poor?

Well, State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) for one, as quoted in the following:

[Senate votes to increase traffic fines. Mike Ward, Postcards from the Lege, Austin American-Statesman]

“Don’t you think a fee is just another tax?” he asked. “I applaud your intentions but I really think you’re fixing to put another fee on top of other fees … I don’t think that’s how we ought to operate.”

Now, granted, what Whitmire would probably advocate for is a new tax (preferably on business or the “rich”) whose proceeds are solely directed to providing legal support for the poor, but what was left unsaid in this article, and quite often is missing altogether when taxes are discussed in the Main Stream Media, is that these “fees” would disproportionately impact the very people it’s designed to help.

A more efficient plan would be to lower, or eliminate all-together, the State imposed extra fee on municipal traffic tickets, thus giving people more of their own money to fund their defense. Instead the State is suggesting it set itself up as a great middle-man. A middle-man whose ‘cut’ of the windfall is skimmed off the top before it’s returned to those who paid it in the first place.

If the circular-logic of taking money from the poor to then turn around and provide state-ran services for their healthcare doesn’t strike you as odd, then imagine this: Let’s say you needed to build a new fence for your back-yard. Probably, your preferred course of action would be to shop around, find the best fence possible that’s within your set budget, and then price compare with companies to provide the service. Under a system similar to the one being proposed, you’d be forced to pay your fencing money (and then some extra) to the State, who would then provide you with a fencing company “for free” who would then come out and build the fence in your backyard. Of course, the company wouldn’t be answerable to you, they’d be answerable to the State. They’d be paid by them and have to report to them. Since the contractor is now in a “public-private partnership” with the State they’d have to keep costs down to ensure they didn’t end up on the ratty side of a television news, sweeps-week story about the poor and indigent receiving $10,000 fences on the taxpayer dime. What this means is that you’ll get an inferior product, at more cost to you. It’s the same with almost every government program that’s designed to “help the poor”, a misnomer if ever there was one.

In a perfect media world, there’d be a quote from someone with a free-market lean who would point this out. In the world of modern-day Texas political media, you get a quote from a representative of the Texas Municipal League, whose main mission is making sure Texas cities receive as much funding as possible. It’s not that the TML opposes increasing the fine, it’s that they want the money sent to the States.

As with most political news stories, the center-right perspective is completely ignored.