Who gets what from the Governor?

Bloomberg has a story (“Perry’s Friends in Texas Discover Donations Dovetail With State Contracts“) that looks at how Perry donors have been rewarded. These stories have been rattling around for a while and they are certainly not going away now.

While Perry has criticized the federal government’s stimulus program, the irony is that Perry run a kind of on-going stimulus program that attempts to create jobs by giving state dollars to a wide array of businesses. One of the questions I raised in a previous post about this involves the degree to which we violate free market principles (George Will has also raised the issue). It may be “pro business” to give money to companies to encourage them to create jobs. It is not classic free enterprise to have business turning to government rather than investors for money.

An important aspect of this issue that we have avoided in Texas politics is who hands out this money. Under Rick Perry we have kept a lot of these funds under the direct or indirect control of the governor’s office. The problem is that there are two possible reasons for Perry’s donors getting money:

  1. It’s natural that business owners who share the Governor’s vision of the Texas economy would give money to his campaign.
  2. They gave Perry money to help get state money.

It would be impossible for Perry to demonstrate that he did not favor donors. How do you prove a negative? Similarly, it would be almost impossible for critics to prove that Perry was engaged in “pay to play.” (Unless someone was dumb enough to write down an agreement to trade a donation for a state contract.) So, Texans will remain suspicious of the amount of money going to our governors’ political allies.

These programs need reform. We have added a great deal of power to the governor’s office over the last decade without pausing to install a few safeguards. There is no reason for so many of these funds to be so closely tied to the office of a single political office and Texas runs the risk of creating a privatized patronage system where donors get state grants (rather than government jobs) in return for supporting their party.

Perry finds some science he likes

Cover of Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in AmericaDespite his strong aversion to science when it comes to evolution or global warning, Rick Perry does make use of some science. The New York Times The Caucus blog has an interview with Sasha Issenberg who is writing a book about the new science of campaigns. While the book (“The Victory Lab”) will not be out for about a year, the section of the book on the Perry campaign (“Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America”) will be out as an ebook next week.

The Perry camp has been running experiments on the public, including randomly scheduling Perry’s appearances so that they could control for other factors. They then test the impact of his visits using public opinion polls.

As much as Perry rail against the role of research on college campuses and the funding of the National Science Foundation, his campaign is now cashing in (literally) on the results of social science.

And, out of the gate…

As Perry announced his entry into the race he received a lot of media attention that portrayed him as a remedy to voter malaise about the GOP field. He was cast as a fresh, dynamic presence. He should have ridden this wave to lay the foundation for a good campaign.

Instead, he fumbled with an erratic, poorly disciplined performance that may have seriously hampered his campaign in what could have been his moment in the sun.

First, he got caught making up new federal regulations about farmers driving tractors needing commercial drivers licenses if they wanted to drive across the highway. His defense was that he heard it over dinner with Senator Chuck Grassley. Candidates have to learn to check his facts before making such attacks. This was a small mistake. However, voters will quit listening after they have heard candidates make too many misleading claims. Think of the story the “boy who cried wolf.”

Next, he accused Federal Reserve Board Chairmen Ben Bernanke of treason for “printing money” before the election. Attacking a Fed chief (originally appointed by George W. Bush) for supporting for the Federal Reserve Board’s intention of continuing the current policy of low interest rates as some kind of illegal conspiracy involving printing money is misleading. Tossing out the reference to treason is demagoguery.

Candidates have to strike a delicate balance in several ways. They have to generate some excitement–without becoming frantic. They also need to seem spontaneous–while still maintaining a disciplined message. Perry has already let his comments on minor issues (farmers on highways, the Federal Reserve Board) drown out his primary message (Jobs, jobs, jobs).

There are a lot of people trying to distract people from listening closely to Rick Perry. Rick Perry has become one of those.

Too often, Perry’s politics is like a wildfire–moving destructively in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Nick Anderson, cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle, pegged the Governor pretty well with this recent cartoon.

Perry needs to start introducing himself and his policies in a disciplined way. The question of who Rick Perry is will be answered in the next week or so. Perry can either tell that story himself or force voters to read between the lines of his erratic attacks on others.

Perry declares

Contrary to my advice/predictions, Rick Perry has jumped into the 2012 presidential election. Perry is now the second Texan in the race (Ron Paul is the other).

For Texas, this means that our politics will be even more entangled with federal politics as Perry jockeys for positions again the rest of the GOP field and Obama. That’s not so good. Also, the Lt. Governor will have to step up and fill in for the Governor as he travels out around the country. Many Texans will remember that this is exactly what Rick Perry did as George W. Bush campaigned for president. As the Austin-American Statesman points out, the Lt. Governor gets paid the governor’s salary about $411 a day while serving as acting governor (the Lt. Governor currently makes just under $20 a day). Oddly enough, the law provides that while the Lt. Governor will get the extra pay for filling in for Governor but allows the governor to keep getting paid while campaigning. Perry will probably do what Bush did and not accept pay for those days.

It  is still not clear to me what Perry’s niche in the GOP field will be. Michelle Bachman has already won over many social conservatives and people associated with the tea party movement. She demonstrated her strength at the Iowa straw poll the same day Perry declared his candidacy.  Mitt Romney has established a foothold with the more business-oriented Republicans. Ron Paul has a long history the Libertarian wing of the party. Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain each bring something to the field. I’m not sure who likes Gingrich.

Perry’s path to the nomination will not be easy. Jake Silverstein writing in BurkaBlog has tossed out the label of Perry as “the great campaigner.” However, you have to remember that those other candidates are also considered great campaigners by plenty of people. Presidential campaign politics is like playing in the All-Star game–everyone is a star.*

Remember that John Connally was  a respected Texas governor, a politician with experience at every level of government, and a good campaigner. He won only one delegate to the Republican Convention in 1980. People had been talking for years about how much potential Tim Pawlenty had. Then, as soon as he declared people seemed to consider him boring. You might remember that after 1996 everyone considered Liddy Dole a strong candidate for the 2000 GOP nomination–and she dropped out of the race in 1999. Other candidates have been declared politically dead before winning the nomination or office. You just don’t know until the candidate hits the trail.

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*For those of you who tolerate sports analogies:  Rick Perry seems like Ian Kinsler.  He holds his own (although some people want more hitting from the lead off slot) and I want the Rangers to keep him. But, is he an all-star?

The Battleship Texas

The Battleship Texas about 1910-1915The Library of Congress recently posted a couple of photos of the Texas from its earliest years when it was one of the most powerful warships on the planet.

The Battleship Texas is a historical artifact in Texas that really does not have much to do with Texas history specifically. Interestedly enough, it is now on exhibit at the San Jacinto Battlefield, site of a battle that is central the state’s history.

Still, touring the battleship is an educational experience. You quickly understand that serving aboard a battleship was neither fun nor glamorous and you get a better feel for the sacrifice Texans (and others) made as the served in the US Navy is a humbling experience. We talk about service and sacrifice in the abstract all the time but we often forget what that really means.

The Battleship TexasThe Texas still needs our help and you can contribute to the preservation of the ship through the Battleship Texas Foundation.

Check out the Library’s of Congress’s photostream on Flickr. They have an amazing variety of photos available in high quality (perfect for Powerpoint presentations).

Freedom of expression?

Here’s a good topic for classroom discussion: Does freedom of speech extend to dressed like a bunny, peeking at people from behind a tree and pointing your finger like a gun?

It appears that the answer in Idaho is no.

The lack of accountability for accountability standards

The latest school accountability ratings are out and few people can make much sense of them. A story in the  Corpus Christi Caller Times  (“Complex accountability system frustrates educators, confuses parents“) provided several examples of parent who found the state’s rating system useless and instead took the revolutionary action of actually talking to teachers and principals.

The Victoria Advocate (“Move over TAKS, state has new STAAR test“) reminds us that Texas will have brand new standards. The STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test will appear this school year and give Texans an entirely new foundation for  judging schools. The STAAR tests are designed to encourage a deeper understanding of the material.

A story in the Texas Tribune (“With Change in Formula, Texas School Ratings Drop“) takes a look at the recently released state-wide school ratings. They noticed that dropping the “Texas Projection Measure” produced a dramatic shift.

Comparison of 2010 and 2011 TEA school ratings

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott tried to assure Texans that these latest results were “absolutely real and valid.” You have to wonder what kind of dramatic variations in results would lead Scott to question the validity of these scores. If shifts this big do not lead Scott to ask serious questions, nothing will.

Clearly, the leadership in the state will continue to deny even the most obvious signs of a problem. This is the risk of having one regime in power too long. It can not afford to admit its mistakes.

As I noted at this time last year, the ratings had become so inflated that they held no credibility and the Texas Legislature voted unanimously to make the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revert to a more realistic measure. The absurdity of this scheme is nicely illustrated by the 200+ pages of the  “Accountability Manual” that the TEA provides.

We have allowed our elected officials to scapegoat the state’s teachers for too long. Standardized tests serve as a shell game that political forces use to constantly shift blame away from themselves. In the process, Texas public school students suffer. I have never heard a college faculty member or employer say that students today are better prepared for college or the workforce. At best, Texas public school students have simply been better programmed for the useless task of taking standardized tests. At worst, they have lost the creativity and critical thinking skills they need to succeed.

The state’s political leaders have an incentive to perpetuate these phony scores. Some teachers may be struggling in the classroom and local school boards my be struggling to put together a quality education for every student. However, it seems clear that they are doing a better job than the state’s education bureaucracy.