Friday, September 21, 2012

Heartache: Matt Stillwell Not a Native Texan After All


Oh dear; it seems that Matt Stillwell, Democrat candidate for House district 136, has sent out some erroneous information on one of his campaign mailers.  As I noted yesterday in a brief update to "Matt Wants Higher Gas Taxes, Do You?" the campaign sent out a mailer this week in which Mr. Stillwell was described as a native Texan.  I wasn't sure at the time, but my memory did serve me well:  Mr. Stillwell was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  

I guess there were quite a few folks who noticed the problem- allegedly Mr. Stillwell has now had to send out an email apology to his supporters.  

It's a bit silly to make a claim that can be so easily disproved.  I can only guess that Mr. Stillwell's handlers thought they could mitigate his liberal politics by appealing to the Daughters of the Republic or something.  Do they really believe that 'Native Texans' are just a bunch of rednecks waiting for an excuse to "Git a rope" for transplants?  Some of my best friends are 'Native Texans,' and they seem like a pretty sharp bunch to me.

Maybe this is what they had in mind?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

RRISD Votes to Stifle Democratic Process

“Shut Up,” they explained.

In a little noticed move last month, the Round Rock School Board quietly approved new board procedures for the district. Typically, governing rules for most boards, both public and private, allow items to be placed on the meeting agenda at the request of two trustees. RRISD however, claims two is not enough to initiate discussion. An agenda request must be approved by a vote of all trustees at an official meeting before the item can be discussed at the next official meeting.

Essentially, even if three board members request an agenda item, the other members of the board can reject discussion of any ‘uncomfortable’ topics at RRISD School Board meetings. In allowing this rule change, Board President Chad Chadwell and his compatriots have significantly damaged the ability of the elected trustees to govern the district. Since members who disagree with each other can easily shut down proposed agenda items, the board’s ability to take action will be seriously compromised. And, of course, if the board is unable to act, the responsibility will fall to, surprise! - RRISD superintendent, Jesus Chavez.

So, just as at the federal level, local government power will be further concentrated into the hands of an unelected bureaucrat. Swell.

It is interesting that this move came so close to the upcoming RRISD Board elections. Incumbent Chad Chadwell has been challenged by Tere McCann for place 2, and there are two candidates vying for the place 7 seat being vacated by Bobby Sieferman. In each case, if the ‘establishment’ loses and the true grassroots candidates win, Chadwell et. al., have already taken preemptive steps to silence those who might question the governance of the district.

And if the elected board members are silenced, so are the voters.

A review of the minutes for RRISD Board meetings over the past year demonstrates that the board actually votes in unison on the vast majority of issues. Only rarely does one see any dissenting votes, which implies that perhaps there are some compelling reasons for occasional nay vote. In the case of these new “silence the opposition” procedure rules, only Terri Romere voted nay.

However shocking, this move to dampen the ability of voters to effect the district shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who’ve been following RRISD events. Not only did administration staff figuratively thumb their noses at parents who took part in the school re-zoning fiasco, the board spent millions on pet projects they knew voters weren’t likely to approve. The decision to super-size one high school was made without any public hearings or input from the community. Also, last month, the board decided to swipe some $25 million from the district’s general funds to build a special high school campus for students at risk of dropping out (currently less than 80 students qualify for the $25 million “Success” campus). Again, no hearings, no public input.
Now, after spending nearly $75 million on pet projects without voter approval, the board is poised to raise property taxes. Furthermore, since the most urgent need in the district is at minimum a new middle school, the ISD is proposing a new bond election for next year. I guess the strategy is to spend extravagantly on anything but essential needs- for those you just hike taxes.

This year’s ISD Board Elections will be held in conjunction with the General Election on November 6. As I mentioned above, the options for Place 2 are incumbent Chad “more-of-the-same” Chadwell and Tere McCann. For Place 7, there is Round Rock Businesswoman and Mom, Pauline Law, and Dell Employee Eric Pav. Law has promised to bring a fiscally conservative viewpoint to the board; Pav has retreated from any public questions about his political philosophy.

Sadly, there are still many individuals who naively believe that school board governance is some kind of philosophical neutral zone. However, I would argue that public schools are THE front line in the battle for the heart and soul of this nation. Some 90% of American children are under the control of the local school. We had better start paying serious attention to what these school districts are doing, because our future depends on it.

Vote November 6, 2012.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Matt Wants Higher Gas Taxes, Do You? UPDATE: Not Sure Where He Comes From?

Residents of western Williamson County have noticed recently that Republican Tony Dale does actually have an opponent in the race for Texas House District 136.  Democrat Matt Stillwell has managed to throw out some rather interesting campaign signs.  The signs, which seem designed to look hand-made, include various enigmatic questions, “Matt wants quality schools, do you?” and “Matt wants a water plan, do you?”  (Self, doesn’t Texas already have a water plan?)

Mr. Stillwell has been telling anyone who would listen (and the Austin American Statesman always listens to Democrats,) that he is a “social liberal” and a “fiscal conservative,” but nothing about his campaign suggests fiscal conservatism.  In fact, his real stances scream “fiscal liberal.”

For example, in some of the literature Mr. Stillwell has handed out, he calls for higher gas prices via tax increases.  He makes the argument that the State’s gas taxes are not high enough to maintain and construct roads, but makes no mention of the fact that over the past 25 years, some $10.8 billion in state transportation funds have been diverted to other uses.  Also, according to Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, “Congress has transferred $7 billion in Texas-paid gasoline tax to other states.”  So maybe we don’t have a “revenue problem” after all?

Perhaps Mr. Stillwell ought to consider his party’s war on domestic energy producers, and have a little compassion for families and businesses struggling to keep up with gas prices that have increased 103.79% since Obama took office.

Advocating higher taxes doesn’t sound too fiscally conservative.

While in his literature Stillwell pays some vague lip service to the fiscally conservative policies that have made Texas successful, his endorsements tell another story.  A thinking person might conclude that endorsements from the Texas AFL-CIO and other unions imply that Mr. Stillwell would like to dismantle Texas’ “Right to Work” laws, and other fiscally conservative measures that have made the state successful.  As Stillwell stated in a recent interview, his support comes from labor unions and environmentalists.  ‘Nuff said.

One thing on which Stillwell has been quite truthful:  he is indeed a social liberal.  Not a moderate, mind you, but a liberal.  He is not only adamantly pro-abortion, but also advocates gay marriage.  Before his handlers recently scrubbed his campaign website, Stillwell accused supporters of traditional marriage of “the same type of thinking that has been proven wrong again and again over the last century,” and ridiculed attempts to protect marriage.  He is an opponent of the Defense of Marriage Act, something Texans have overwhelmingly supported at the polls.

Interestingly enough, the Austin American Statesman has been eagerly reporting Stillwell’s assertion that House District 136 is somehow a swing district and winnable by a liberal Democrat.  Their evidence?  That Governor Rick Perry and Senator John Cornyn won by only 15% points in the 2010 elections.

Dude.  On what planet is a 15-point advantage a close race?

Of course the rumor on the  streets is that Stillwell and his Democrat handlers know he can’t win, but they’re propping him up anyway so that he can do a little better the next time he runs for the Round Rock School Board.  The RRISD has been trying to boost him by appointing him to some boards, so maybe there is a method to this madness.  I wonder if the parents of Round Rock are ready for such an overt social liberal?

In the meantime, I think voters in HD 136 are smarter than Stillwell gives them credit for.

UPDATE:  This week Mr. Stillwell's campaign sent out a mailer claiming that he was a "native Texan."  Sounds good; the only problem is that he hails from out of state- New Mexico if I have my facts straight.  Either Stillwell's campaign is being run by someone who doesn't know him, or...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Holiday For Elections

Last Saturday, while most residents were enjoying Labor Day weekend festivities, the Hutto Independent School District held a Tax Ratification Election. The district asked voters to approve a whopping $0.13 (per $100 of property valuation) tax increase. With about 1,200 votes cast, the measure passed by 67%.

Although Texas School Districts are bound by law to seek voter approval for tax rates above a certain threshold, apparently many districts would really rather not have voters scrutinize education spending too closely. In an attempt to change state laws requiring voter approval, Independent School Districts across Texas spend millions to lobby against these taxpayer protections. Nearly every district funnels lobbying funds through various advocacy groups, and some districts directly contract their own lobbyists. 

However, lest anyone think school districts do not have adequate control over property tax rates, keep in mind that the Leander ISD Board was able to raise rates this year by $1.211 without voter approval. At $1.51187, LISD has the second-highest property tax rate in the county- second only to Hutto’s $1.67 per $100.

Although ISD lobbyists have not yet succeeded in changing voter-approval laws, many school boards and administrators are employing ‘stealth election’ tactics to manipulate outcomes. Due to a loophole in state code, uniform election dates don’t apply to Tax Ratification Elections. Consequently, school districts may hold such elections nearly anytime they please, and many local ISDs have taken full advantage.

One might ask why these school districts don’t just make a valid case for the increases and hold elections on the expected dates. Well, in Hutto’s case, they did. Last November HISD asked voters to approve a much more modest increase of $0.06 per $100 of valuation, but residents rejected the measure by 57% of the vote. This year, the district doubled-down on the rate increase and scheduled the vote for Labor Day weekend. Obviously, unusual election dates make it easier to bring out ISD staff and union votes without having too many of those pesky fiscal Conservatives show up.

Other Williamson County school districts aren’t far behind, albeit with more palatable election dates. The Taylor Independent School District will also ask voters to accept a $0.13 increase on Saturday, September 8. The Georgetown ISD is requesting a much more modest increase of $0.04 per $100 of valuation, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday, October 9.

While the U.S. Constitution makes no provision for education, (a state responsibility,) Americans agree that education is a common good and are willing to support schools with their tax dollars. However, as evidenced by the fierce debates over education spending in recent years, citizens are no longer willing to write a blank check to the local public school. While some districts have been much better stewards of their resources than others, parents have noticed that a budget crunch seems to lead to fewer special education and TAG teachers, but rarely impacts the high school football program.

“Stealth” elections aren’t the only way School districts attempt to evade voter scrutiny. Many school boards liberally spend millions on pet projects they know citizens would not approve. Another Williamson County district, the Round Rock ISD, recently voted to spend leftover bond money and reserve funds to super-size one high school, and also build another $25 million facility for the 98 students enrolled in the at-risk high school. In neither case did the district hold public hearings or allow public input. At the same time, RRISD taxes are scheduled to increase by $0.045 per $100 this year- no voter approval required.

Parents and voters are noticing fundamental problems with our public school structure. Various groups have filed lawsuits to repair state funding issues and the glaring inefficiencies in school spending. Furthermore, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has announced that he will work with Texas Senator Dan Patrick to finally sanction parental choice in education through vouchers. Hopefully, all these efforts will result in fundamental reforms to our current system. Until then, voters need to pay attention and vote.

Even if it is a holiday weekend.