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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

March 21, 2017 GMT

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

El Paso Times. March 16, 2017.

El Paso’s two congressional representatives, Beto O’Rourke and Will Hurd, have given the nation something in short supply in our political system: hope.

Democrat O’Rourke and Republican Hurd embarked on their “bipartisan road trip” on March 14 when airlines canceled flights because of a massive East Coast snowstorm. They decided to rent a car in San Antonio and drive to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get to the Capitol before a series of scheduled votes the night of March 15.


Hurd and O’Rourke also decided to livestream their road trip on Facebook, creating a rolling town hall that would eventually draw hundreds of thousands of viewers. They discussed issues and played a wide variety of music, getting to know each other better, and letting the nation get to know them.

The two were not strangers before the trip. They represent adjoining congressional districts. O’Rourke represents most of El Paso County, and Hurd represents a sprawling district that stretches from eastern El Paso County to San Antonio. They have expressed respect for each other and worked together on common interests, such as defense issues.

But putting themselves in a car together for more than 30 hours was something else entirely.

Throughout the road trip, they learned more about each other, and had meaningful discussions about issues that included health care, border security, immigration, climate change and alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.

Even when they disagreed, which was often, they were respectful and genuinely interested in what each other had to say.

Sadly, that is a rarity in our national political dialogue.

As they made their way in a rented Chevrolet Impala, they began to build an audience on Periscope and Facebook Live. During the trip, their congressional colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, began calling in to discuss issues important to them.

O’Rourke and Hurd continued to build an audience, either for their discussions on important issues or the quirkiness of the road trip, such as a late-night stop at Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, or a stop at a donut shop recommended by a viewer.

They reminded their audience of what our politics could be. They demonstrated how elected officials could use social media to communicate with constituents.

“This is a great use of Facebook Live for civic engagement. Good luck making it to DC on time,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a comment on their live stream.


No one should be under the illusion that the Hurd-O’Rourke road trip will fix our national discourse. Politics will continue to be a blood sport. During the road trip, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put out a press release criticizing Hurd for not having live town hall meetings in his district.

Hurd and O’Rourke also are ambitious. O’Rourke almost certainly will run for the U.S. Senate next year, and Hurd is building a national profile as a security expert. The road trip was certainly good PR for both.

But none of that lessens the value of the road trip, or the sense of hope Hurd and O’Rourke created.

Our politics doesn’t need to be nasty and divisive. Our elected officials can respect and even like each other, even when they deeply disagree on most issues.

Thanks for the reminder, congressmen.


Houston Chronicle. March 17, 2017.

Congressman Kevin Brady, the Republican who represents The Woodlands area and who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is among the more congenial elected officials, with both his constituents and the media. But even the mild-mannered former chamber of commerce executive seems a bit touchy these days as he assumes the task of defending his handiwork — a hugely complicated package of health care legislation that seeks to consign the Affordable Care Act to the garbage heap of American history, while replacing it with a plan that deprives some 24 million Americans of their health insurance, even as it increases their costs, inflicts harm on the insurance market and offers up an enormous tax cut to the rich. That’s the sort of task that would leave any of us out-of-sorts.

Brady, of course, doesn’t see the new Republican health care plan as anything but a vast improvement over the hated Obamacare. “We’re returning control to states and individuals rather than Washington,” he recently told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Still, the Texas congressman is having trouble selling the American Health Care Act, even to a cadre of his fellow GOP House members, primarily because they want it to go even further in its decimation of Obamacare. Another group of relatively moderate Republicans in the Senate are wary of undoing the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and sentencing millions of Americans to the heavy burden of health insecurity they thought they had escaped.

President Donald Trump contends that he’s been twisting Republican arms, even though Trumpcare is a long way from fulfilling his promise to Americans that the Obamacare replacement would provide “insurance for everybody” and that it will be “much less expensive and much better.” As with much the president says, he doesn’t much care about the details; he merely wants an accomplishment to bray about, even though the Americans who stand to lose the most represent his core support.

Reluctant Republicans may knuckle under to the super-salesman in the White House, but lower-income consumers and older people in particular are likely to lose coverage under Trumpcare. According to AARP, a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying an additional $3,600 a year for coverage. A 64-year-old making $15,000 would pay $8,400 a year more. Meanwhile, the much-discussed Congressional Budget Office analysis estimates that a fifth of the non-elderly population would be uninsured by 2026, nearly double the current proportion.

Brady and his fellow Republicans are proud that they’re returning health care to the free market. Even though the “market” for health care is like no other, they’re confident that selling insurance across state lines, consumer choice and state control of block grants will eventually provide not only $330 billion in savings but also, in Brady’s words, “much better coverage of usable, affordable health care.”

We’re not so confident. We see millions of Americans continuing to struggle with the rising costs of health care. We see a rise in the number of uninsured, increased costs for hospitals and a destablized insurance industry.

A healthier body politic would surrender to the basic fact that the health care market is different. As almost all western democracies acknowledge, health care competition is not a magic elixir. Lawmakers interested in crafting a “usable, affordable” health care plan would expand Medicare and Medicaid and create a public option for everyone else. They would champion regulatory reforms to lower drug prices and give Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices. And they would offer strong incentives to encourage preventive care.

For the foreseeable future we’re not going to see sensible health care reform. As Brady and his colleagues rush through their destructive Obamacare replacement, we can only hope that it displeases so many individuals and special interests that it veers into a legislative ditch and breaks apart. Maybe someday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers will dare try again to craft a plan that provides “insurance for everybody,” a plan that will truly be “much less expensive and much better.” Despite the local congressman’s best efforts, we’re not there yet.


San Antonio Express-News. March 19, 2017.

The number of reported cases of improper relationships between teachers and students is growing at an alarming rate and needs to be addressed by the Legislature.

In the past five years, there have been 893 investigations into inappropriate relations between educators and students in Texas, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Last school year alone, 207 cases were reported to the Texas Education Agency, several from Bexar County. Just this month, an East Central High School English teacher became the latest local educator to resign following allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Legislation making its way through the Legislature this session would ensure teachers who are involved in such relationships cannot quietly resign and find work in another district.

The 1,000-plus school districts across the state each have their own policies for dealing with the problem. In many districts, teachers who engage in improper relationship with students are allowed to keep their teaching certificates, and fewer than half face criminal charges.

In an effort to avoid lengthy and expensive lawsuits, school districts often allow teachers accused of sexual misconduct to resign, and then districts provide a neutral reference to unsuspecting future employers.

An Austin American-Statesman investigation into the cases reported to TEA found that between January 2010 and December 2016, 686 teachers in Texas lost their teaching licenses following allegations of an impropriety with a student. Only 308 of those teachers were charged with a crime.

The Austin American-Statesman’s database shows 63 San Antonio-area educators lost their teaching certificates during that period. Only 24 were charged with a criminal offense.

This month, the Texas Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which addresses the festering student-teacher relationship problem on multiple levels.

It allows a teacher to be charged over an improper relationship even if the student attends another school district. The legislation also expands the responsibility for reporting beyond the superintendents to include school principals.

If approved, the bill would make failure to report an incident a Class A misdemeanor. That charge could be enhanced to a felony if it is determined during the trial that a superintendent or principal tried to conceal the incident.

Importantly, it does not allow passing the problem from one school district to another. Under Senate Bill 7, administrators could have their educator certificate revoked if they assisted someone who had engaged in sexual misconduct in gaining employment at another school.

The widespread use of social media platforms that allow students and teachers to easily communicate outside the classroom is seen as a major factor in the rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships.

The proposed legislative changes would require that school districts adopt, implement and enforce local policies on electronic communications between teachers and students.

Stricter regulations and enhanced penalties alone are not going to eliminate the problem. They will, however, go a long way toward ensuring violators don’t continue to game the system by resigning and going to work in another school district.


Corpus Christi Caller-Times. March 20, 2017.

In 2015, local environmental activists achieved quite a victory, acquiring $2 million from a donor to buy out and relocate families from the polluted neighborhood known as Dona Park. They thought they had enough money to remedy the living situations of a dozen families and turn the former homes into a buffer between people and industry. They outdid their expectations, helping 15 families move into new homes a safe distance away.

Assuming no overhead — and who would assume such a thing these days? — that comes out to a little more than $133,000 per house and family. Suzie Canales, the longtime relentless advocate for Dona Park residents and the person most answerable for how the money was spent, says $133,000 “sounds like a lot” until the expense of buying and removing a house and relocating the family is considered.

Actually, Ms. Canales, our real estate ads and anyone who has bought and sold homes lately on the Southside all say that you did just fine by those folks. Also, we checked with people who know more than a little about public accounting, and they said your numbers sound like money well spent. Then they went back to the work that keeps them crazy-busy this time of year — completing income tax returns for clients who can’t remember what it’s like to be worth less than $2 million.

The fund established with the money was not meant to last forever like a scholarship fund that spends only some of its profits once a year from investments. This fund was meant to be spent — wisely, but spent.

About that overhead: The big-ticket item, if it’s to be called that, was lawyer Errol Summerlin’s consulting work for more than a year and a half, for $26,170. That averages out to about six hours of lawyer time per family at the $300 per hour that the Corpus Christi City Council is paying a lawyer to consult on Mark Scott’s eligibility to run for mayor. We wouldn’t be surprised to find out in a final analysis that Summerlin’s work bordered on volunteerism.

And we fully expect to find out, eventually. The numbers we’re going on are just an overview. The details must be dug into to make sure that the devil in them is just a cliche. We anticipate finding out those details. Speaking of cliches, if this is as good a deed as it appears to be, it can’t go wholly unpunished. A thorough going-over will be good for the soul. It also might serve as a useful benchmark for the buyouts underway currently in the path of the Harbor Bridge replacement project.

There was an unmistakable apologetic tone to Canales’ announcement that the fund had run out. While 15 relocated families are three more than expected, the fund received 75 applications.

Canales told the Caller-Times that previous buyout efforts along refinery row didn’t offer enough for residents to leave with dignity. Not this time. If a price can be put on dignity in the narrow sense of real estate, and that price is $133,000, dignity is more affordable than we suspected.


The Dallas Morning News. March 20, 2017.

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Paxton has made a career of complaining about what he calls discrimination against Christians in Texas schools, going so far as to sue the Killeen school district after a middle school asked a teacher to remove a homemade Charlie Brown poster with a religious quote. Paxton has also opposed atheists seeking to halt prayers before public meetings.

Paxton’s office this month took an unwarranted whack at Frisco ISD, suggesting that school officials allow special treatment of Muslim students who gather to pray in an empty classroom at Liberty High School.

What an embarrassing display of political grandstanding.

In a letter to the school district, Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie wrote that it appears that students at the high school are “being treated differently based on their religious beliefs,” a violation of the First Amendment. Leonie, however, offered no evidence of unequal treatment and apparently made the public accusation without first even contacting the school district.

Gov. Greg Abbott then tweeted Leonie’s letter, noting that the attorney general was “looking into the Public School Prayer Room issue many of you have questioned.”

Is this the way the state’s top law enforcement official conducts an agenda-free inquiry? Make a public accusation without checking out the information with the school district first?

Had officials checked in with Frisco first, they’d have discovered that the school has provided space for students since 2009. Administrators noticed that some Muslim students were leaving campus to attend Friday prayer; with the commute, it meant missing hours’ worth of school for dozens of students. So the district found space for students to pray on school grounds, preserving their instructional time — and making it clear that the room was open to students of all faiths.

This editorial board then asked the attorney general’s office for an explanation. Instead, we got a misleading prepared statement, saying Frisco ISD “assured us today that students of all faith, or no faith, may now use this meeting room during non-instructional time.” Yes, just as they have been able to do all along.

This is cynical politics feeding a conservative narrative of Christian victimhood. Real supporters of religious liberty should shout it down.

Frisco ISD officials say the arrangement has worked and are rightly livid.

Superintendent Jeremy Lyon fired back in a letter that “inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the district, its students, staff, parents, and community in danger of unnecessary disruption.”

Plus, Lyon says, the district has no idea about the complaints the governor’s office mentions. He wants the attorney general’s office to produce “any and all evidence the OAG has in its possession of any religious group and/or individual requesting access to this room or any other room for their religious practices” as well as documentation of any complaints to Paxton’s office. That’s not too much to ask.

Once again, it seems that Paxton has allowed personal beliefs and political motives to pursue a narrative despite facts to the contrary. It is wrong. It is divisive. It is time for Paxton’s office to back off.