Religious monuments on public property

It’s not Texas-based but I enjoyed this story from the New York Times on a conflict over the placement of religious monuments in a public park. We generally try to use Texas examples whenever we can. However, in most parts of Texas religious diversity ranges from Southern Baptists to Roman Catholics so we don’t always get the most interesting mix of perspectives.

In Pleasant Grove Utah the adherents of a religion called Summum want to place their “Seven Aphorisms” in a public park near a monument of the Ten Commandments.  “As above, so below; as below, so above” might make a fine monument in a park. However, local officials aren’t sure and have declined their request. The city’s defense is that only monuments concerning the city’s history are eligible for display in “Pioneer Park” and only when donated by groups with a long association with the city. However, lawyer for the Summuns points out that the Fraternal Order of Eagles had only been in town two years when it donated the Ten Commandments monument that was placed in the city park. The fact that the pioneers of the area were Mormon suggests that removing religion from this dispute will be difficult.

A federal appeals court has ordered Pleasant Grove City to accept the Summan monument although under the free-speech protection of the first amendment rather than the establishment clause. The city and its allies argue that once the city is compelled to open its public spaces up to both sides then cities could be asked to erect Al-Queda monuments next to 9/11 commemorations. In Texas this could mean that all those Confederate monuments on the grounds of the Texas capitol might get neighbors commemorating the sacrifices of Union troops.


Overview of impact of 2008 election on state legislatures

Results are still not full and final. However, it appears that  Democrats will control the legislatures in 27 states going into 2009. Republicans control the legislature in 14 states and 8 states will have divided control. Nebraska’s unicameral, nonpartisan legislature rounds out the state lineup.

One of the changes was Oklahoma which when from a divided legislature (with a Republican House and a Senate that had been tied 24-24) to Republican control of both houses. Republicans also saw Tennessee move into their column after being split.

Democrats moved Delaware, Nevada, New York and Wisconsin from the divided column into the Democratic column. Democrats also moved Ohio from the Republican column into the divided column as the the Ohio house shifted from Republican to Democrat. Democrats made a gain in Alaska by moving it from the Republican to the divided column when they gained a  seat to split the Alaska Senate 10-10.

You can check out maps of returns on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The State Board of Education–Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back

The State Board of Education seems to be providing a steady stream of interesting stories. Forgive me for taking these up out of order and let me begin with a recent decision that I suspect has a great deal to do with the heart of public education in Texas: high school football.

As the Dallas Morning News recently reported the State Board of Education initially voted to give more credit to high school athletes. Previously, athletes received up to two credits for participation. Under the new rules athletes would receive four credits. That would have translated into 1.5 credits in athletics with the other 2.5 counting as electives. Since graduation requires 3.5 credits of electives the result of the rule change is that athletes would only need one additional elective for graduate.

The fairness issue is that students in choir, theater, and band can already get this much credit for their participation. A story from the Austin-American Statesman’s website reported that Coach Craig Agnew portrayed allowing more credit for athletics as a way of combating racism, low self-esteem, and drop-out rates while teach students about leadership and confidence.

On the other hand, athletics began as an extra-curricular activities and have now become part of the curriculum. If students aren’t getting enough credit for all those hour put in on the field the answer might be to spend less time on the field. If you’ve taught in a university you know that many former high school athletes are poorly prepared. If “fairness” is the issue the answer should not to lower the standard for everyone.

I would have liked to heard more details the debate over this. High school football doesn’t seem to be suffering in Texas. The teams I see in east Texas seem fully stocked and it never occurred to me to worry about high school athletics. It looks like sports have begun to reclaim their hold on high school after setbacks with “no pass-no play.”

Apparently, some Board members agree. According to the Houston Post the SBOE voted on Friday (11/21) to put off the change until next year.

I’ll now yield the soap box to others. However, we can revisit the labors of our beloved SBOE soon.

Convicted felons voting and holding office

Debates over the eligibility of convicted felons to vote and the ongoing controversy over the recent conviction of US Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska pushed felons into the election spotlight.

A recent story noted that convicted felons could serve in the US Senate. In Texas, convicted felons are able to vote after they have served out their full punishment (including parole). However, Texas Election Code (Section 141.001) states that convicted felons are not eligible to run for office unless “pardoned or otherwise released.” (The same code provides that you can not be a candidate for office if you have been found by a court to be “totally mentally incapacitated” or “partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote”)

We didn’t quite get this right in the textbook. On page 175 we note that felons lose their right to vote without noting that they can vote after their punishment has run its course. A big shout out to our new friend and colleague at SFA Marilyn Gruebel for pointing out the error of our ways.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn running for mayor of Austin

Many of you will not be surprised to hear that the Austin-American Statesman is reporting that Carole Keeton Strayhorn is running for mayor. She became Austin’s first female mayor in 1977 and since then she’s run for/held a range of offices including an ill-fated attempt to dislodge J.J. “Jake” Pickle from his seat in the U.S. House. Somewhere in her early political travels she discovered her inner Republican and switched from Democrat to Republican. Most recently she made her on contribution to the very interesting field of candidates in the 2006 governors contest by running as an independent (rather than challenge Rick Perry in the Republican primary).

Election 2008 – Democrats struggle in statewide races but nearly win the House

With the votes nearly counted (but not recounted) it appears that the Democrats came within a very few votes of producing a 75-75 tie in the Texas Legislature. It appears that Bob Romano fell about 20 votes shy of unseating Republican incumbent State Representative Linda Harper-Brownin. Romano has asked for a recount so we will not know for sure who represents Irvin until next week.

The close battle to control the Texas House is especially interesting since the Democrats showed little sign of winning state-wide office. The state’s top Democratic vote-getter was Sam Houston. He polled about 45.9% in his challenge to incumbent Justice Dale Wainwright for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court. With Obama polling at 43.7% and Rick Norriega getting 42.8% (the lowest percentage for a Democrat and slightly lower than the 43.3% Ron Kirk got in that race in 2002) it looks like there wasn’t much variation in the state-wide Democratic vote. Overall, the Democrats numbers looked better than in 2006. However, their leading candidate in 2006 (Bill Moody challenging for place 2 on the Texas Supreme Court) managed 44.9% that year. It’s somewhat comforting that Sam Houston didn’t finish that far ahead of the rest of the field. It looks like very few voters confused him with his more famous namesake.

With Bush off the ballot (even though his approval is only about 34% here in Texas) and Obama exciting Democratic voters the Democrats were hoping to pick off a few seats on the Texas Supreme Court. However, they failed to do significantly better state-wide than in ’06. This is despite what appeared to me to be a pretty effective campaign ad campaign that attempted to raise doubts about having every seat on the Court in the hands of one party.

The House races were another matter. Even if they failed to win a majority the Democrats managed to shake the Republican majority enough to rattle the Speakers race.

Quick post: King of the Hill cancelled

A quick post to alert patriotic Texans to the news that Fox will not renew King of the Hill. I’ve long considered King of the Hill the best documentary on life in Texas. Like many of you I’ll feel lost without Hank’s words of wisdom.

Bush’s low approval ratings have emboldened Texas’ jealous rivals and these other states have pressured the network.

Good news for you King of the Hill fans who have trouble sleeping–the Cartoon Network will be adding King of the Hill to their late night “Adult Swim” lineup.