Texas: DeMint Continues to Help Boost Cruz | At the Races

Roll Call is reporting (“DeMint Continues to Help Boost Cruz” that congressman Jim DeMint is emailing supporters and rallying them to the cause of Ted Cruz. It’s interesting to see Cruz getting this kind of out-of-state support and I suspect many Texans will be wondering why a Member of the U.S. House from South Carolina is so concerned at who represents Texas in the U.S. Senate. I’m sure that Cruz appreciates the help of “tea party” faithful, but too much money coming in from outside Texas could prove a mixed blessing among Texas voters vary of outside interests.

Hospital Won’t Hire Very Obese Workers

A Texas Tribune story (“Victoria Hospital Won’t Hire Very Obese Workers“) raises an interesting question: Should employers be allowed to discriminate based on weight or other aspects of physical appearance.

As the story points out, the hospital’s policy goes beyond the ability to function on the job or health costs concerns.

Citizens Medical Center’s written policy doesn’t indicate that paying for the health insurance of obese workers is too expensive — the reason some companies have been able to ban workers who use tobacco — or suggest that obese employees are unable to do their jobs. Mostly, it references physical appearance, and puts overweight applicants in the same category as those with visible tattoos or facial piercings.

Their argument seems relatively straight forward. Many of their patients are over 65 and apparently don’t like seeing obese people. According to the hospital’s chief executive, “The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance.”

Texas law does not protect the obese from discrimination (only one state does) but we may have to decide whether or not it should.

Texas – State Integrity Investigation

The Center for Public Integrity has release their comprehensive report on ethics in state government. New Jersey finished first. And, in the words of Lorretta Weinberg, Majority Leader of the New Jersey Senate, “If we’re number one, I feel bad for the rest of the states.”

Texas finished #27. You can check out the report card report card and the accompany story for all the details.

The state's integrity postcard

Texas gets credit for having a good system–but points off for not using it.

So, the Lone Star State — which now boasts 25.7 million residents —gets generally high marks for making information available to the public. But it has a long way to go when it comes to holding state officials fully accountable, government watchdogs say. In keeping political agendas separate from official state business at the highest levels of government, they say, Texas also falls short.

No state made an A. However, some of us would still expect better from our state.

The overestimation of the presidency

You don’t see political scientists featured in The New Yorker very often. We’re generally not considered that important. However, the research of Texas A&M’s George Edwards III is the focus of a New Yorker story (“The Unpersuaded: Who listens to a President?“). The article makes a good quick introduction to some of the current research on the presidency.

Cover of On Deaf EarsEdwards is getting all this attention because he has been making the case for the idea that presidents have little ability to move public opinion and that presidential persuasion is more myth than reality.

The evidence is spelled out in detail in Edwards’ two books on the subject On Deaf Ears and The Strategic Presidency. Edwards tracks public opinion on a number of issues considered important to presidents like Reagan and Clinton and finds almost no movement of public opinion.

In his memoirs, Reagan conceded this failure and expressed his frustration at the inability to move public opinion on issues he considered vital:

Time and again, I would speak on television, to a joint session of Congress, or to other audiences about the problems in Central America, and I would hope that the outcome would be an outpouring of support from Americans who would apply the same kind of heat on Congress that helped pass the economic recovery package.
But the polls usually found that large numbers of Americans cared little or not at all about what happened in Central America—in fact, a surprisingly large proportion didn’t even know where Nicaragua and El Salvador were located—and, among whose who did care, too few cared enough about a Communist penetration of the Americas to apply the kind of pressure I needed on Congress.

The idea that the bully pulpit has little impact is surprising. We expect the impact of a charismatic president to be dramatic. Sometimes we fear this power falling into the wrong hands.

Edwards describes two kinds of leaders. A director is a leader who transforms the political landscape by leading citizens to positions they would not go on their own. In contrast, a facilitator creates strategies to opportunities that already exist. Facilitators do not create constituencies for change, they simply recognize them and help intensify and channel support for change.

Edwards does not argue that presidents are unimportant. Instead, he argues that change doesn’t just happen and that facilitators play important roles by understanding the opportunities that exist and making the most of those opportunities.

It does not make for the dramatic moments of leadership that we sometimes expect. However, Edwards’ evidence is compelling we need to accept that the truth is less interesting than the myth of the bully pulpit.

Arthur Laffer and supply-side economics

In the 1980s, the ideas of Arthur Laffer  were embraced by Ronald Reagan and became the guiding theory behind conservative economic policy. Now, according to Stateline, Laffer’s supply-side economics is staging a comeback in state politics.

The Laffer CurveWe might review the “Laffer curve” if it’s back in fashion. The basic argument is that current tax rates are too high and that cutting back taxes would encourage people to work harder and invest more. The resulting increase in productivity would mean that the government would be taking in more revenue even though it was taxing at a lower rate. This theory is often referred to as “supply-side” economics because it increases the incentives for producers (suppliers) of goods rather than demand-side (consumers).

Of course, this is controversial. Fortunately for Laffer and his supply-side friends, tax cuts are pretty easy to sell.

More Tax Breaks for Sporting Events

The Texas Tribune has a story (“Tax Breaks for Sporting Events Raise Questions — Comptroller of Public Accounts“) on how Texas continues to subsidize major sporting events. We have already written about the state’s ongoing stimulus program for movies, major sporting events, and “emerging technology.” However, it seemed especially ironic to see another story on more subsidies on profitable events on the same day that the Austin-American Statesman ran a story (“Retired Teacher face health plan changes“) outlining how the state might hike premiums on the retired teachers who haven’t seen an increase in their pension checks in over a decade.

The standardized test quagmire

A story in the Austin American Statesman (“Standardized tests with high stakes are bad for learning, studies show“), Carolyn J. Heinrich shares what she learned as a member of a National Academies of Science committee that reviewed the nation’s test-based accountability systems. She concludes that while testing has its merits, high-states testing leads students and teachers will respond inappropriately at times.

Unfortunately, what the research has also definitively shown is that people will respond to these incentives in both intended and unintended ways, and the less control they feel they have over the measured outcomes and the more stringent the targets or performance tests, the more likely they are to respond perversely.

Texas needs to have a meaningful debate over accountability that goes beyond politicians proclaiming that high-stakes testing is the only means of creating accountability and dismissing anyone who doubts the value of test scores as heretics unconcerned about education. The current system appears have created a false sense of accountability and become a major distraction to learning.

I often feel that Texas is bogged down in a political quagmire because elected officials are afraid to reopen the debate and discover they have failed a generation of Texas students.