San Antonio is “a city on the rise.” I hear that mantra repeated more and more often by local business and civic leaders. People are saying it with conviction. If San Antonio had its own license plate, it could be our tagline.
But San Antonio is a city, and it’s in Texas, a state that deserves its own line: State of Indifference. Sure, we came out of the recession faster and stronger than many other states, and the rich are getting richer, just as they are in a nation that increasingly carries it own new tagline: Nation of Inequality. While many of us prosper, for others it’s a mirage on the distant horizon. Reality is a struggle to survive.
For all of San Antonio’s progress in the last decade, first under Mayor Phil Hardberger and now under Mayor Julián Castro, what Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka labels “A Generation of Republican Leadership” is the albatross around our neck. The ruling party’s failure to address key issues has forced cities to bear the brunt of statewide problems. Examples? The record number of Texans living without health insurance, and the state’s failure after four decades of litigation and court orders to reform its unconstitutional and inequitable school finance system.
Why turn the Rivard Report focus from the urban core to the state capitol? It’s an election year, that’s why. And what happens at the state level has an enormous impact at the local level. As the March 4 primaries draw near, this is the time to exercise your right and privilege to vote. More than half of voters now vote early, which this election starts Tuesday, Feb. 18 and continues through Feb. 28.
Who is elected to serve as the next governor and lieutenant governor will determine whether Texas continues on its present course of vilifying Washington and ignoring problems at home, or ends the cold war with the Obama administration and turns instead to addressing the needs of all Texans.
One party rule is not democracy. I respect every Republican’s right to vote for the party in power, but with that power comes the responsibility to account for the outcomes.
Health Care Funding
The Texas Medical Association calls Texas “the uninsured capital of the United States.” One in four people living in Texas, or 6.3 million people based on the already outdated 2010 census, are uninsured. Children account for 1.2 million of that total. The real numbers are even worse since the state’s population is growing so fast. The Texas population was 25.1 million after the 2010 Census; it’s now estimated to be 26.5 million.
Uninsured people do not get preventative medical care. They can’t afford it. They seek medical care when they have no choice, and that means in hospital emergency rooms where health care costs are astronomically higher than the costs and benefits of preventative care. Taxpayers, of course, pay the higher, indirect bills.
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Gov. Rick Perry rejected new federal Medicaid funding in the Affordable Care Act that could total nearly $100 billion for Texas over the next decade and would provide a safety net for the 1.7 million uninsured Texans living on incomes 138 percent below the federal poverty level. An estimated 40-48,000 of those individuals are uninsured veterans, according to the Urban Institute, numbers verified by the Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas. There are more than 300,000 San Antonians living without health insurance, according to city estimates. The Bexar Health Marketplace website and the EnrollSA program, a coalition of health care professionals and hospitals, local government and grass-roots organizations, have been established to address local needs.
The Governor’s Race
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, running to succeed Perry as the Republican candidate for governor, supports Perry’s anti-Washington platform and his rejection of new Medicaid funds provided under the ACA. Abbott’s tenure as attorney general was most notable for the numerous times he sued the federal government without success and at great cost to Texans.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, running as the Democratic candidate, supports Medicaid expansion and would reverse the Perry decision and accept the additional funding and the state’s 10 percent funding obligation after the program’s first three years. Readers who want to delve more deeply into the negative impact on Texas and other Republican-controlled states that rejected the expanded funding can read this Atlantic Cities article.
Much has been made in recent weeks about a Dallas Morning News article that pointed out minor discrepancies in Davis’ compelling life narrative of a young woman who went from a trailer park to Harvard Law. The story is authentic, whether she divorced at age 19 or 21, and regardless of how long she lived in a trailer. Yes, she divorced her husband and yes they shared custody of their children. When was the last time you read a story about a male politician’s child custody status after divorce?
The misguided focus underscores, if anything, how serious the Abbott camp takes the Davis campaign, and how hard they will work to keep real issues obscured by character assassination.
The Lt. Governor’s Race
Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has adopted the same anti-Washington agenda after losing a U.S. Senate race to upstart challenger and now Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite. Dewhurst now faces three challengers in his re-election bid, all of whom oppose the ACA and embrace an anti-Obama administration agenda. The Republican primary contest is an exercise in extremism as each candidate pretends to be farther to the right than the next. It’s hard to get to the right of Dan Patrick, the Houston talk show host and state senator.
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Patrick and his fellow Republicans challengers, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, are equally critical of the Republican status quo, and end up making the same case being made by the Democrats: A Republican super-majority has left state in a mess.
It will cost you 99 cents to get behind the newspaper’s firewall if you are so inclined, but Austin American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman helped spark the current conversation with his Feb. 6 column, “Republicans Say Republican Leadership has Failed.” The column reported on a Texas Association of Business luncheon that featured Dewhurst and his three challengers. Their criticism of Dewhurst sounded like what you’d expect to hear from Democrats in November.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte from San Antonio. the Democratic primary candidate, is a strong advocate for health care expansion. Whether she can rally the state’s uninsured to actually go to the polls is a big question mark.
State Education Funding
For young people and newcomers, San Antonio has been home to another epic losing battle, the fight to equalize public school funding. Texas funds its public schools by allocating property taxes district by district. That has led some to criticize the system as “education by zip code,” meaning families living in well-to-do neighborhoods and school districts enjoy far greater education opportunities than families living in poorer neighborhoods and school districts.
The original lawsuit, Rodriguez vs. San Antonio ISD, challenging Texas school funding, was filed in 1971 and led a three-judge federal panel to rule that the state’s education financing system was unconstitutional, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote. Even 43 years later, the Texas Legislature has failed to reform a system ruled unconstitutional two mores times by the Texas Supreme Court in 1989 and 1991. You can read a good history of the lawsuits and court rulings published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Public school funding is once again the subject of a lawsuit. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the organization that filed the landmark Edgewood vs. Kirby lawsuit in 1989 that led to the first state Supreme Court ruling that the system was unconstitutional, delivered final arguments on Feb. 7 in the current lawsuit in a Travis County district court. More than 600 school districts in Texas have joined in the MALDEF lawsuit.
The Republican-controlled Legislature devastated public school funding in the 2011 legislative session when it cut $5.7 billion in education spending. In February, 2013, Travis County District Court Judge John K. Dietz ruled that the funding system was “arbitrary, inequitable and inadequate under the Texas Constitution, citing gross inequities for property-poor school districts and failures of the system for low-income and English Language Learner (ELL) children,” according to MALDEF. That ruling prompted the Legislature to restore $3.4 billion of the cut funding in 2013, repeating a familiar cycle of responding to judicial orders with half-measures that time and again have failed to meet different court mandates to create an equitable funding mechanism.
Again, Republican officeholders and candidates oppose additional funding or new approaches to equalize education spending across districts. The Democrats, who currently hold no elected statewide offices and represent a minority in the House, favor greater spending and a more equitable distribution of the money.
I’ll be branded a “liberal Democrat” by conservatives for writing this article, even though I have voted across party lines over the years and consider myself an independent. In the case of health care spending and education funding, the facts are facts. This generation of Texas Republicans is content to run on a platform of job creation and a favorable business climate. Texas looks great if you are a beneficiary of the windfall wealth and new jobs created by the Eagle Ford Shale Play, but most citizens are watching from the sidelines. The Rainy Day Fund is flush with billions collected as a result of the new oil boom, but lawmakers refuse to tap it to address education and health care needs.
I recognize the job growth and economic prosperity Republican policies have engendered, but only some of the state’s 26 million Texans are the beneficiaries. Those same policies have punished the working class. Income disparity is as high as it has been in many generations, and for the first time since World War II and the Great Depression, the “next generation,” the children of the Baby Boomers, will not inherit a more prosperous world than the one experienced by their parents. Minimum wage workers have seen their real income decline or stagnate for more than three decades. Immigrants are welcome to toil at the very bottom of the income ladder, roofing our houses, working in restaurant kitchens, and cleaning our homes. But we refuse to afford them legal status. That’s the dark side of Texas that Republicans refuse to acknowledge or debate.
That’s why this year’s primary election in March and general election in November matter so much and why occasional voters should become committed voters. You can vote for the status quo, you can vote for change, or you can stay home, which is really an apathetic way of supporting the status quo.