Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Crucial State Board of Education District 10 Runoff Election

"All In Perspective" column for this week.  Published in the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger. 

Although a growing number of families are opting for education alternatives, nearly 90% of America's children still attend public schools. Every day, more than 55 million students will spend most of their day having their hearts and minds shaped by the curriculum and staff of a public school. What is taught in the classroom today will impact society for decades to come, and consequently every American should be concerned about state of public education.

Although public schools are governed by democratic process, voters display a shocking lack of interest in education-related elections. Local school board elections are often held separately from higher profile contests, and voter participation languishes between 4 and 8 percent. However, even in races for the powerful Texas State Board of Education, voters and media pay scant attention to candidates who will exert enormous influence over our children. In addition to managing the Permanent School Fund, elected members of the SBOE approve charter schools and set curriculum standards for textbooks and testing. Since Texas is one of the largest consumers of educational textbooks, these standards can have national influence.

So what about that curriculum? Many pundits claim that public education should be somehow morally 'neutral,' but a truly values neutral curriculum is simply impossible. As much as some secularists would like to pretend there is no difference between right and wrong, they merely replace traditional values with a 'new' moral code. From their own sense of what is 'right' or 'fair,' they assert that society should 'tolerate,' (i.e., never criticize) the 'new' values. In this alternate worldview, the new 'good' includes things like abortion, labor unions, and government management of all resources. The new 'bad' includes public prayer, chastity, and traditional marriage. Education is probably the most important front line in the culture war, and the reality is that a set of values will be embedded into public school curriculum. The question is, whose values?

Voters do have a say in 'whose values,' and this year we select new representatives to the Texas SBOE. Locally, Republicans return to the polls this month for a runoff election between Tom Maynard and Rebecca Osborne, and since the district leans Republican (and the Democrat candidate is extremely left-wing,) the GOP nominee is favored to win in November. While most voters are focused on the Cruz/Dewhurst senate race, it is imperative that we look carefully at the SBOE candidates.

Candidate Tom Maynard taught for13 years, has served as a local school board trustee, and is now the Executive Director of the Texas FFA. At FFA, Maynard oversees educational programs for more than 84,000 students, and has been recognized for his successful leadership. His compelling personal story includes a childhood spent at Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, and Maynard exemplifies the kind of values that foster successful adults and responsible citizens. The experience and wisdom he would bring to the SBOE has swept the endorsements of conservative community leaders, GOP members of the current SBOE, and the Republican state representatives of the district.

Round Rock teacher Rebecca Osborne is something of an enigma. According to public records, she affiliated with the Democrat Party as recently as 2008. Although she did garner a few GOP endorsements, other endorsements are curious, (such as the editor of a magazine regarding Austin's 6th Street rock scene, CONTENT WARNINGRank and Revue). Her financial contributors include known Democrats, and Osborne has refused to answer candidate surveys from prominent conservative organizations.

Early voting continues through July 27, Election day is July 31. Voter turnout is projected to be dismal, so a handful of votes could make the difference. I strongly urge all concerned voters to make time to participate in this crucial election. We need solid, conservative leaders on the Texas SBOE, who will take a stand for the values that have made this country great. Our future depends on it.

Polling Locations and Times:  http://www.wilco.org/CountyDepartments/Elections/tabid/450/Default.aspx 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tom Maynard Strongly Endorsed for Texas SBOE 10: UPDATED

UPDATE:  Four more conservative groups, and four additional members of the Texas State Board of Education have now endorsed Tom Maynard for SBOE 10. 

A partial listing of the endorsements for Texas State Board of Education, District 10 candidate Tom Maynard.  While you might have issues with one or two of these names, I think it highly significant that such a large number of Republicans have come forward to unify behind Maynard in what is not exactly a high profile race. 

Early voting starts Monday, July 23, and continues through July 27.  Election Day is July 31. 

  • Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner 
  • Texas Right to Life PAC
  • Texas Alliance for Life
  • Texas Homeschool Coalition
  • Young Conservatives of Texas 
  • Dr. Marsha Farney, State Board of Education Member 
  • Pat Hardy, State Board of Education Member, District 11 
  • Gail Lowe, State Board of Education Member, District 14
  • Barbara Cargill, Chairwoman of the State Board of Education, District 8
  • Charles Garza, State Board of Education Member, District 5
  • Ken Mercer, State Board of Education Member, District 5
  • Terri Leo, State Board of Education Member, District 6
  • David Bradley, State Board of Education Member, District 7 
  • Rep. Marva Beck 
  • Rep. Byron Cook 
  • Rep. Larry Gonzales 
  • Rep. Lois Kolkhorst 
  • Rep. Charles Schwertner 
  • Rep. Paul Workman 
  • Rep. John Zerwas 
  • Rep. Ralph Sheffield
  • Russell Martinez, Senate District 5, Republican Committeeman 
  • Megan Higginbotham, Senate District 5, Republican Committeewoman 
  • Former State Rep. Dan Gattis 
  • Jana Duty, Williamson County Attorney 
  • Dee Hobbs, Assistant Williamson County Attorney 
  • Don Tracy, Cedar Park City Councilman 
  • Bobby Gutierrez, Williamson County Constable, Precinct 3 
  • George Garver, Mayor of Georgetown 
  • Steve Fought, Sun City Community Leader 
  • Jim Schwertner, President Schwertner Farms 
  • Betty Schleder, Sun City Community Leader 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Political Word Play

July 9 "All In Perspective" Column published in the Hill Country News and Jarrell Star Ledger.  Beginning July 26, my columns will also be published in the Georgetown Advocate

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” -George Orwell

In his 2007 best-seller Words that Work, political strategist and pollster Frank Luntz describes how the right words can sell goods, ideas, and political candidates. Of course Dr. Luntz didn't exactly, er, 'write the book' on manipulating the masses through language, because wordplay has always been an essential ingredient of politics at every level.

One only needs to look at the names of proposed congressional legislation to find examples of political word-games. Some are fun, like the “HAPPY” Act (Humanity and Pets Partnering through the Years-actually involves tax deductions for pets.) Of course others are downright misleading. The “Affordable Healthcare Act” is hardly 'affordable' since it will increase taxes on the middle-class by $4.2 billion and drag state governments to the brink of financial insolvency. But “affordable” sounded a whole lot better than the “Forcing Americans to Depend on Government Bureaucrats for Healthcare.”

Politicians are notorious for manipulating words to win elections, and often intentionally mangle definitions to deceive the public. In 2010, when Americans began to push back against President Obama's 'progressive' policies, it became very fashionable for candidates to call themselves “Conservative.” Even ardent Lefties in Texas suddenly became “fiscally conservative,” but the conversion was really only on campaign literature.

Lately many on the Left have shifted to the term “fiscally responsible.” For most of us, “responsible” invokes images of thriftiness and a lack of extravagance. Unfortunately, for liberal/progressive politicians, “responsible” doesn't actually mean controlling spending. Government spending will continue, but the 'responsible' will be hiking your taxes to pay for it all.

Some of the more subtle and deceptive political wordplay occurs in state and local politics, especially with the nearly 2,000 Political Action Committees registered in Texas. PACs love to create names that are non-threatening and perhaps a teensy bit misleading. For example, one might think that the 'Texas Parent PAC' is all about helping 'parents,' but as it turns out, Texas Parent PAC lobbies on behalf of public schools- not necessarily a bad thing, but the group also opposes allowing parents to choose their child's school.

Another education lobby group, the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) defines 'freedom' as making sure there are no expressions of Christianity in public schools ever (or in any other public place for that matter). TFN also actively promotes very liberal sex education programs, pro-abortion policies, and even organizes 'kiss-ins' to demonstrate for gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender issues. And while they claim to advocate for religious freedom, TFN has been a vocal opponent of religious freedom for those who don't want to fund abortions and birth-control.

With all the political wordplay (from both sides of the political aisle,) it would be great if pols would follow the example of the Texas State Rifle Association. There's really no question about where these folks stand; they are about GUNS. Whether or not you agree with their stance, the linguistic honesty is truly refreshing. Of course, maybe that's what makes the Left so mad at the TSRA: while pro-abortion groups must hide behind benign acronyms like NARAL, defenders of rights actually named in the Constitution can afford to be bold.

We are now entering the full-blown election season, and are about to be inundated with carefully crafted political messages. Just remember that underneath all those vague, comforting platitudes are real policy agendas. Voters should seek specific explanations for campaign words like 'liberty,' 'freedom,' or 'hope and change.' Since most Americans now believe our country is going in the wrong direction, perhaps this year voters will look for substance over mere words. Here's hoping.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where Were You on 9-11?

While many adult Americans will never forget the events of  September 11, 2001, there are those who would prefer to to downplay, or even 'forget' that such evil attacks on innocent Americans ever took place.

One man who will never forget is Texas Senator Brian Birdwell.

A retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, Birdwell was actually in the Pentagon on 9-11.  When Flight 77 impacted the building, Birdwell was thrown from his office and burned over 60% of his body.  His survival involved some 39 operations and multiple skin grafts, as well as a very strong faith.  Senator Birdwell and his wife Mel wrote about their ordeal in Refined by Fire: A Family's Triumph of Love and Faith, and founded Face the Fire Ministries to support critical burn survivors and wounded service personnel and their families.

Senator Birdwell will be the keynote speaker at the Williamson County Republican Women's annual military appreciation luncheon next Wednesday, July 11, at 11:30 A.M. in Round Rock.  Admission for active duty or retired military personnel is complimentary with a verifiable RSVP.  (Email williamsoncountyrepublicanwomen@yahoo.com )

Admission for members is $16, non-members $20.  An RSVP  is required. 

Although typically ignored by the main-stream media, this annual Round Rock event is one my favorites.  The program always serves as a great reminder of the price of freedom, and I can't imagine a better speaker this year than Senator Birdwell. 

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Curriculum Wars and the Texas State Board of Education

Last week's column for the Hill Country News and the Jarrell Star Ledger.  These columns will also be running in a new publication, The Georgetown Advocate, beginning July 12.

[Independence Day] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
-John Adams, 1776

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a weekend touring historic Boston. Known as the “Cradle of Liberty,” the city of Boston is like your grade-school history book come to life; a great reminder of the remarkable people that founded a new kind of nation. Their courage, foresight, and faith led them to craft a unique system of governance that has served us well for over 200 years. Thanks to their efforts, we will celebrate American exceptionalism “with pomp and parade” on Independence Day next week.

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to celebrate America, and there is a movement within public education to teach a very different perspective of the United States.

In recent years, Texas has been on the front lines of what might be called the Curriculum Wars. In 2009, unelected appointees of the Texas Education Agency attempted to revise the state's social studies curriculum standards. These leftist ideologues wanted to teach that America is “imperialistic, oppressive, and exploitative.” They also wanted to remove mention of Judeo-Christian holidays while retaining other religious festivals, replace the term “American” with “Global Citizen,” and remove mention of many iconic historic Americans such as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Fortunately, the State Board of Education (SBOE) must approve any curriculum changes, and the majority of the board found the proposals unacceptable. Instead, the SBOE voted for standards that by no means whitewash the darker aspects of our history, but also celebrate the extraordinary successes of the American political experiment.

But the Curriculum War is far from over. The 'anti-American Exceptionalism' crowd has been trying to undermine Texas SBOE authority, but also to transform the board via elections. Due to redistricting, this year all 15 seats on the SBOE will be on the ballot. Locally, Republicans will choose between Tom Maynard and Rebecca Osborne in a runoff election for SBOE District 10. A local teacher, Osborne ran as a Republican in 2010, but did not fare well when it was discovered she had previously voted in Democrat Primaries. Long-time Republican Tom Maynard has 13 years of teaching experience and is the executive director of the Texas FFA Association.

The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Judy Jennings in November. In 2010, Jennings opposed the social studies curriculum on numerous points. She expressed outrage that students were required to learn the difference between legal and illegal immigration, and that high school students would be exposed to the Venona Papers, recently declassified Cold War documents that demonstrate the scope and power of the American Communist Party in the 1950's. Jennings has vowed to radically change history curriculum.

The runoff for SBOE 10 may not garner much attention, but it is extremely important. Since Texas purchases such a large number of textbooks, publishers develop text based on our standards, and we exert a great deal of influence on education nationwide. The winner of the SBOE 10 race will help define curriculum for a vast number of American children both in and out of Texas. We must choose our candidates carefully.