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A simple truth: 22-1 classroom ratio works

When a family hits a financial rough patch, they are forced to prioritize by separating the wants from the must-haves. State government is no different.

This session, the Texas Legislature will wrestle with how to close a record-breaking $27 billion budget shortfall. In an effort to reduce spending, numerous critical state services will face the chopping block, including education, criminal justice, and health and human services.

As the Legislature weighs unprecedented budget cuts, it too must prioritize: What areas of state funding should be reduced before others? What are the moral priorities for the state, and how can they best be pursued given the severe limitations?

We believe the education of our children is priority one for most Texans. After all, the achievement of our state depends on our ability to educate future generations.

Part of Texas’ educational success is attributable to reforms passed in 1984, including a statewide requirement to reduce kindergarten through fourth-grade class sizes to no more than 22 students per teacher. Unfortunately, there is a concerted effort in Austin to weaken the 22-1 cap with a 22-student class size average. While that sounds like a minor change, it would actually gut the landmark kindergarten-fourth grade reform that has served as a foundation for Texas’ educational improvement. It would also inevitably lead to teacher layoffs, crammed classrooms and, eventually, poorer student performance.

The simple truth is that the 22-1 ratio has been on the books for a quarter-century because it works. In fact, despite the rhetoric of those trying to jettison this cornerstone of Texas’ school reform, study after study has proven that smaller class sizes lead to better results. The reason is simple: Smaller classes give teachers more one-on-one time with students and allow them to create more customized instruction and assignments to meet individual students’ needs. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Education concluded that smaller classes in early grades have significant positive effects through grade eight and help to close the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving students. The more kids in a class, the more difficult it becomes for teachers to know their students better and recognize problems and special needs early.

The impact of replacing the 22-1 limit with a 22-class-size average would be immediate and touch every family with a child in elementary school. Undoubtedly, many kindergarten through fourth-grade classes would grow significantly, as some classes, particularly those with special needs students, are notably smaller than 22. In order words, one class could have 10 school kids, while another could be jammed to the gills with 34 students, yet the school would meet the requirements of the “reform.” Is that what we really want for our children?

Eliminating 22-1 would likely force almost 12,000 teachers to lose their jobs. With Texas’ unemployment rate already higher than 8 percent, the loss of such a dramatic number of jobs would be felt in communities throughout the state. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves that only the so-called “bad teachers” would be the ones given pink slips. Changing 22-1 is about budget savings first and foremost, so the incentive will be to lay off the more experienced, higher paid educators.

The truth is school districts truly struggling with the 22-1 limit can already request a waiver from the Texas Education Agency. Some 3,000 waivers have been granted, while only five requests have been rejected since the law was implemented in 1984.

Times are tough and the budget crisis is real, but throwing out what we know works for our children for short-term savings is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Smaller class sizes are an important, proven part of a quality education, and the state should work to strengthen them, not gut them.

Ellis, D-Houston, has represented Texas Senate District 13 since 1990; Hobby served as Texas lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1991 and currently serves on the board of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

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In just a few weeks, on April 1, we will all be counted by the twenty-third U. S. census. Then the fun starts.

Congress will reapportion. Texas will gain three or four seats in Congress and electoral votes in the next three presidential elections. Texas will also be eligible for billions of more dollars of federal aid. Whether Governor Perry lets us collect it is, of course, another matter! If at first you don’t secede don’t try again.

Then the legislature will redraw 232 districts: thirty-six congressional, thirty-one state senatorial, 150 state house, and fifteen State Board of Education. Counties, cities, and school boards will redraw thousands more.

Here is the most famous political cartoon in history. It added “gerrymander” to our language. The definition of “gerrymander” is simple: I redistrict. You gerrymander.

Gerrymandering, drawing a district to elect or defeat a particular candidate, is a time-honored technique, practiced by the Founding Fathers, that frequently doesn’t work. The gerrymander shown above occurred in Massachusetts in 1812. The Jeffersonian legislature tried to defeat an incumbent Federalist congressman by drawing a district a cartoonist made look like a salamander. Elbridge Gerry was governor, hence the name.

The Federalist won. The gerrymander didn’t work.

The very first gerrymander didn’t work either. Patrick Henry opposed ratification of the Constitution of which James Madison was one of the principal authors. In the Virginia Constitutional Convention called to consider ratification Madison prevailed. And a good thing, else we might still be laboring under the Articles of Confederation—or might not be a nation.

But Henry prevailed in the legislature. He prevented Madison’s election as one of Virginia’s first senators. He then tried to prevent Madison’s election to the House of Representatives by drawing an eight-county district thought to favor Madison’s opponent, James Monroe.

Madison won 1,308 to 972. Again, the gerrymander didn’t work.

Virginia was so rich in political talent that two future Presidents actually ran against each other! Virginia was so rich in political talent that two future Presidents actually ran against each other!

It’s a good thing Madison was elected, else we might not have a Bill of Rights!

Gerrymandering in Texas has had a DeLayed effect.

So onerous and contentious can redistricting be that legislatures sometimes avoided it by creating state-wide districts, seats held by congressmen-at-large. Congress prohibited at-large and multi-member Congressional districts in 1967.

Texas amended its Constitution in 1951 to establish the Legislative Redistricting Board, which redistricts the Legislature if the Legislature fails to do so after each census. The LRB did so in 1981, with no partisan rancor. No senators of either party seeking re-election were paired. I don’t remember if the partisan balance was changed or not. In those happier days a generation ago it didn’t much matter.


• The first apportionment controversy was in the Constitutional Convention when the Founding Fathers excluded 40% of the slaves from the apportionment base.

• The second was when President George Washington cast the first-ever Presidential veto. He vetoed a bill favored by Secretary of State Jefferson but opposed by Treasury Secretary Hamilton. I think it gave New York too many votes.

• In 1921 reapportionment was so controversial that Congress didn’t do it at all. The 1920 census showed a large influx of immigrants and a population shift to the cities. Urban states would have gained the seats (and Congressmen) rural states lost. The urban shift would have unseated Congressmen within states as well. Congress did not reapportion because a lot of Congressmen would have lost their jobs. Congress ignored the Constitution for a decade and the House of Representatives became less representative. The country boys won again.

After the 1930 census, at the urging of President Hoover , Congress changed the reapportionment procedure to make it more ministerial and self-enacting.

Congress decides who is counted and where, who excluded, and what questions are asked.

Should the census count government personnel overseas? Prison inmates serving time out-of-state? Mormon missionaries serving God overseas? If so, where should they be included for reapportionment?

• Sometimes overseas government personnel have been counted but not included. In 1986 Tom Foley from Washington state succeeded Tip O’Neill from Massachusetts as Speaker of the House. In 1990 Congress included the overseas personnel and thereby shifted a seat and an electoral vote from Massachusetts to Washington. Washington had 8,092 more than Massachusetts. Would Massachusetts have lost the seat and the electoral vote to Washington had Tip O’Neill still been Speaker? Go figure. Tip once famously remarked that “all politics is local”.

Inmates are counted where they are imprisoned rather than where they were convicted. Governors who export prisoners to other states beware. You may be exporting a Congressman! And who knows which prisoner is the Congressman?

Missionaries are not counted. After the 2000 Census, Utah sued unsuccessfully for a fourth Congressional seat and electoral vote at the expense of North Carolina, contending that Mormon missionaries serving overseas should be counted in the same way as overseas government personnel.

As the folks from Massachusetts, Washington, Utah, and North Carolina can tell you, those last few hundred can make the difference when you get down to a state’s last seat.

Frequently at redistricting conferences a speaker will tell a story something like this:

“When I redistricted the (pick a state) House in 19×1, I drew compact districts with the lowest standard deviations on the Western World. But when I showed it to the Speaker, he pointed out that I had one too few districts.”

That always gets a nervous laugh from the audience (legislative staff members who are afraid they might do the same thing).

Something like that happened in Texas in 1922. The Legislature left out Swisher county. The Texas Supreme Court put it back in. Makes you wonder where the legislators from Swisher County were.

Wars spawn censuses. Throughout history, military commanders have needed to know how many men followed their flag. A rear-march through the centuries tells us that in the Book of Numbers Jehovah told Moses to count the Children of Israel as they wandered through the desert to see if they had enough soldiers to conquer the Canaanites. (Wouldn’t you have thought Jehovah already knew?)

The census told the heavenly Quartermaster how many to feed so that just enough manna fell from Heaven. That census showed several million Israelites. The Israelites were an army of 603,550 soldiers. Although they had been trekking through the desert for forty years, they conquered.

Censuses have been fatal:

• Moses threw the lepers identified in the census out of camp and left them to die in the Wilderness.

• We celebrate the most famous fatal census every Christmas. It happened in Bethlehem in either 0000AD or 0000BC. (Even then they took censuses in decennial years.) Joseph and the pregnant Mary had gone to Bethlehem to be counted. There was no room at the inn so they had to stay in a stable.

Records of that census survived until at least 150 AD. St. Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor in The First Apology that Bethlehem “is a village in the land of the Jews, 35 stadia [about four miles] from Jerusalem in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can learn from the census returns.” A commentator noted “the census returns were no doubt preserved in the Roman archives and were probably accessible in Justin’s day.”

Herod, mindful of a prophecy that a rival King of the Jews would be born at about that time and in that place, ordered the slaughter of male infants so born – the Holy Innocents.

But Mary and Joseph escaped with their infant Jesus by retracing Moses’ flight from Egypt. Despite Herod’s murderous efforts the prophecy came true. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” survived. Moses and Jesus were both hidden at birth from rulers bent on infanticide. How different history would have been if the baby-killers had found their targets!

Celestial navigation was big in those days before GPS. The Israelites were guided by a pillar of fire at night. On that night in Bethlehem some undocumented aliens—three guys on camels—were wandering around looking at the stars. Sure enough, they had drugs in their saddlebags. Stuff called frankincense and myrrh.

• Another fatal census was taken in 1937 in the Soviet Union. The numbers were too low to suit Premier Josef Stalin so he shot the members of the Census Board for “diminishing the population of the Soviet Union”. Somehow, the 1939 census takers found millions more Russians. Seems they had undercounts even then.

• In the 1940s, census data helped Nazis find European Jews.


The U.S. census is an essential part of our electoral process. The writers of the Constitution were creating a nation that would have an increasing number of states with increasing populations to be represented by an increasingly large Congress.

Our census, like the Numbers count, has also been used for military purposes:

• In the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman used census maps to chart his March through Georgia to the Sea. The maps showed the number of whites, free blacks, and slaves in each county. They also showed how the army could live off the land: how many horses, mules, cattle, and how much wheat, corn, oats, and other crops on each farm.

“No military expedition was ever based of sounder or surer data,” Sherman wrote to his daughter Ellen. He could move faster than his foes because he didn’t need supply lines. Census figures helped Grant at Vicksburg just as they helped Moses in the desert.

• The 1940 census helped the Army round up and imprison U.S. citizens of Japanese descent in 1942. One of those internees, Norman Y. Mineta, became Secretary of Commerce and boss of the Census Bureau 60 years later. Mineta, when he was a California Congressman, passed a bill paying each surviving internee $20,000.

• The 2000 census helped the FBI to find Arab-Americans after the 9/11 attacks.


Apportionment is as much about electing Presidents as about electing Congress. The Constitutional Convention built in a small-state bias into both processes by adopting the Connecticut Compromise. The Connecticut Compromise created our bicameral Congress: a Senate for the small states, a House of Representatives for the large ones.

The Constitution apportions three electoral votes to each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia states regardless of size. (Texas has never ratified the Twenty-Third Amendment giving three electoral votes to the District of Columbia.)

The small-state bias is created by the Constitutional apportionment of and, very slightly, by the “method of equal proportions”. For example, there are three times as many electors per resident of Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska as there are of California, Texas, and New York.


Now comes one of those deliciously ironic episodes that make history fun!

“Wait a minute!” thought the Northern Republicans. “We won the Civil War, but we still have a Southern President. Now we’re going to give the Rebs the Capitol AND the White House? That’s what we put the three-fifths rule in the Constitution to prevent! We’ll fix that!”

Their efforts to do so were not impressive:

• The House impeached President Andrew Johnson for the “high crime and misdemeanor” of firing his Secretary of War (Stanton). Cooler heads prevailed in the Senate—by one vote. That’s what Senates are for. As we know from recent history, Presidential impeachment is not one of the things Republican Congresses do well.

Congress abolished slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment, thereby putting the other 40% into the apportionment base.

That would have given the Rebs sixteen more seats in Congress and electoral votes—enough to give the Democrats control of Congress and elect a President!

• Then they passed the Fourteenth Amendment–a ludicrous attempt to deal with the threatened increase in Southern representation. Section 2 gave Congress the power to reduce representation of states that kept blacks from voting. Southern states did so, but so did Northern states. No such reduction was ever made. Section 2, became, in the words of the Congressional Research Service, “little more than an historical curiosity.”

• The Republicans passed the Fifteenth Amendment giving blacks and freed slaves the right to vote and have probably regretted it ever since. For the last century they have mostly voted Democratic.

In any case, the amendment wasn’t very effective until real enabling legislation (Voting Rights Act) was passed by a Democratic Congress at the urging of a Democratic President a century later.

• They considered basing apportionment on voting population rather than total population. That looked good for a while. Southern states would lose eighteen seats instead of gaining sixteen. But that would exclude women and aliens and penalize the New England states. It might even make states think about letting women vote! Back to the drawing board!

In the end the South neither gained nor lost representation for three reasons:

• Counting the freed blacks just about offset Southern casualties during the Civil War.

• The Eastern states grew more slowly than the rest of the country and so lost relative share, but Western states (California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon) grew by more than 50%.

• The 1870 census was a mess. The South was undercounted by 1.26 million. (The black undercount continues. In 1940 thirteen percent more black men registered for the draft than were counted by the census in that age group. )


The Supreme Court of the U. S. refused for years to hear redistricting cases because redistricting was a political issue, a view held strongly by Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Before Baker v. Carr redistricting fights, at least in Southern states, were not between Democrats and Republicans (there weren’t many) but between city folks and country folks (there weren’t as many as there used to be). The country folks won because their grandfathers had stacked the constitutional deck.

Baker v. Carr reshuffled the deck.

Charles W. Baker of Tennessee complained that a 1901 law designed to apportion the seats for the state’s General Assembly was virtually ignored. Baker’s suit detailed how Tennessee’s reapportionment ignored population shifts within the state.

The Texas situation was the same, except that the law and constitution were followed, not ignored. But the same result was reached. The state constitution allowed Harris County (Houston) with almost 20% of the state population to have only one (3%) of 31 senators.

Many legislatures (like Tennessee and Texas) were dominated by rural legislators. Districts bore little regard to population. Rural legislators represented a lot fewer folks than urban legislators. Legislatures had become unrepresentative.

Baker won, 6-2, Frankfurter dissenting. One-man-one-vote became the law. A wave of redistricting swept state legislatures, city councils and school boards across the country. Congressional districts soon reflected the new makeup of the legislatures.


A year after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act President Lyndon Johnson urged passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in these words:

“Rarely are we met with a challenge… the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such as an issue…the command of the Constitution is plain. It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”

The Act outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes. All you needed to vote was citizenship and a registration card. The Fifteenth Amendment was finally to be enforced. (The poll tax was eliminated by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1962. The Texas Legislature declined to ratify it in 2007.)

The impact of this act was dramatic. By the end of 1966, only four of the traditional thirteen Southern states had less than 50% of African Americans registered to vote. By 1968, even hard-line Mississippi had 59% of African Americans registered. African Americans were elected to office, often for the first time since Reconstruction. The Act was the boost that the civil rights cause needed to move it swiftly along and LBJ gets full credit for it.

LBJ famously predicted when he signed the Voting Rights Act that he was signing away the South to the Republicans for a generation. He was wrong. It has now been almost three generations.

Blacks and Hispanics became protected minorities. Renewed in 2006 by Congress, the Voting Rights Act is one the most important changes in American electoral history. Democrats, men, Indians, and Asians, minorities all, are not protected. Thank goodness men are not a protected minority, else we would have district lines bisecting bedrooms.

The most controversial part of the VRA is Section 5. Section 5 specifies those States and smaller jurisdictions that must submit redistricting plans to the Justice Department for preclearance.

Until 1990 redistricting was done in a prayer-like attitude. Legislators and staffers spent a lot time on their knees. The state capitol was their cathedral. Their prayer rug was a large state map with a plastic overlay. A felt-tip marker was the prayer stick and a hand calculator the rosary.

Nowadays it’s done on a computer. Move a precinct with a mouse click and the numbers, displayed at the bottom of the screen, change before your eyes.

Since the census determines how many electoral votes each state has and therefore how much your vote counts.

If you aren’t counted, you don’t count!

[1] Labunski, Richard. James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. Oxford, 2006.[2] PL 90-196.  See
[3] Texas Constitution, III, 28.
[5] State of the Union address, Dec. 2, 1930.
[7] Smith v. Patterson, 111 Tex. 525, 242 S.W. 749 (1922).
[8] Numbers 1,2.
[9] Luke 2:1-7
[10] St. Justin Martyr The First and Second Apologies, Paulist Press 1997. L. W. Barnard, editor. Cited in Houston  Mayor          William H. White letter to the author, September 5, 2000.
[11] Matthew 2:16-18
[12] Conquest, Robert. Reflections on a Ravaged Century. (John Murray,1999)
[13] American Census: A Social History. Margo Anderson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. p. 64. See esp. 8n, 9n. Hereafter “Census”.
[14] William Seltzer and Margo Anderson, “After Pearl Harbor:  The Proper Role of Population Data Systems in Time of War,”  Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, CA, March 25, 2000.
[15] New York Times, June 30, 2000.
[16] New York Times ,July 30, 2004.] For an excellent discussion of the Electoral College  see Langley, Lawrence D., and      Pierce, Neal R. The Electoral College Primer. Yale University Press.

[1[18]] U.S. Constitution, 23d Amendment.

[1[20] See] Author’s calculation from
[22] Census, Chapter 3.
[23] of Interdisciplinary History 30.1 (1999) 1-36
[24] Anderson, To Sample or Not to Sample Journal of Interdisciplinary History 30.1 (1999) 1-36
[25] 369 US186(1962)

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Texas, once the Lone Star State, first became the Let’s Secede State (Rick Perry), and is now the Laughing Stock State (State Board of Education), Once a two-party state, Texas has become a tea-party state.

What does it tell you that Libertarian Debra Medina was showing close to 30% in the Republican Primary polls and dropped to 18% when she said she wasn’t sure that President “Dubya” Bush bombed New York on 9/11? And Bush was a Republican President!

Take the most recent episode brought to us by the State Board of Education (SBOE). They want to edit history books by expunging the names of Hispanics who helped Texas become free from Mexico. Lorenzo de Zavala, born in Mexico in 1788, helped draft the constitution of the Republic of Texas and was its interim vice-president (1836). The Texas Archives Building across the street from the State Capitol is named for him.

Have the folks who want to edit Texas history to suit their lily-white selves ever heard of him? Apparently not.

Even before the Texas history fiasco some SBOE members had decided they were better scientists than Charles Darwin. Seems they’re not real happy about evolution. Their chief biologist is then board chairman, Don McLeroy. McLeroy will have to conduct his scientific investigations elsewhere next year. He was defeated in the Republican primary by Tom Ratliff. On his campaign website Ratliff explained some differences between himself and McLeroy: “I believe God created the Heavens and the Earth millions and millions of years ago. I do not believe, as my opponent does, that the Earth is a mere few thousand years old, nor do I believe, as my opponent does, that dinosaurs and mankind lived at the same time.”

I’m like the ill-informed gentleman in South Carolina who said “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” I just want them to keep their hands off my textbooks.

If we’re lucky, the SBOE may itself be evolving. The problem is that evolution means change.

● Is the theory of evolution itself evolving?

Of course! The late Stephen Jay Gould showed that evolution does not proceed at a steady pace, but in fits and starts.

● Is physics evolving? You bet!

Newtonian physics describes our everyday world. But when telescopes exposed us to infinite space and time Einstein developed the theory of relativity. When electronics exposed us to subatomic worlds Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg, Planck and others developed the field of quantum mechanics. Do all those fields of physics fit together neatly? No. Physicists are trying to develop a Grand Unified Theory (GUT). They haven’t found it yet. Maybe there isn’t one.

● Is astronomy evolving? At galactic speed!

Ptolemy taught us that the Sun went around the Earth. But then Copernicus and Galileo came along and said “No! It’s the other way around!” (Just like the SBOE centuries later, the infallible Pope thought he was a better scientist than Galileo and wanted to excommunicate him—or maybe burn him at the stake.)

Astronomers can account for less than 20% of the matter necessary to hold the universe together—if we have the laws of gravity and physics right. Dark energy and dark matter, whatever they may be, are needed to balance the equations.

The only fields of study that don’t evolve are those not important enough to think about any more.

Central to the theory of evolution is the mutant gene that causes the species to evolve—for better or worse.

The mutant gene that made the national GOP evolve from the party of Eisenhower to the party of Limbaugh and the whackos evolve from Birchers to Birthers is loose in Texas!

But help is on the way! Scientists will soon isolate the GOP gene. Then the condition can be treated by massive injections of stem cells!

In the meantime, those of us who still believe the earth is round, that it goes around the sun, and that President Obama was born in Hawaii, will try to stay away from the Republican thought police.

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Robocalls—A Public Nuisance

Enough, already!

During the last political season we have all been harassed in our homes by countless robocalls from rude people who want us to vote for them because they invaded our privacy.

Let’s put a stop to it! We can protect ourselves from computer spam by blocking the sender. Let’s do the same for our telephones.

Here’s how it could work:

Telephone companies have “star codes” that mostly don’t work. “*67” is supposed to block the calling number from calling in the future. It doesn’t.

Let’s require by law telephone companies to have a new star code “***” that works. That code would block the calling number. If the caller persists in using the phone system to harass the public make the phone company cut off service to the harasser, on pain of heavy fines not includible in the rate base.

Technical problems? Heavy fines will solve them.

There have been unsuccessful attempts to stop this nuisance before. The “free speech” issue has been raised by such notable defenders of our freedoms as insurance companies, debt collectors, and—yes— newspaper publishers, Congress and several states have passed laws, ineffective because they exempt the main offenders: charities, politicians, nonprofit organizations, debt collectors, insurance companies, newspaper publishers, government agencies.

That’s like saying that only sex offenders can grope you.

Cumbersome and probably useless “no-call” lists have been established so that those who do not want to be ravished again can list themselves. That’s putting the burden on the victim, not the harasser. One such list, the National Political Do Not Call Registry, actually requires you to pay for the privilege of not being harassed.

Your tax dollars at work!

Efforts in Texas to abate the nuisance go back to 1999 when State Representative Debra Danburg tried to establish a state do-not-call list. The bill never got out of committee because insurance salesmen and stock brokers were protecting our right to privacy.

In 2001, the Legislature did pass a law purporting to limit the public nuisance. Your own experience in the past few months is the best measure of how effective the law has been. The bill, of course, exempted the usual suspects.

The law has been tweaked every session since. You must feel more secure now that “certain Law-enforcement Charitable Organizations” are now exempt.

The Texas Public Utility Commission is supposed to enforce the law but has never done so because the law is unenforceable—as it was meant to be.

But—never fear— you can always sue for the damages you can prove. That’s if you can find a lawyer who will file the suit for a contingent fee—that is, for a share of the judgment. Or maybe you can get the Attorney General of Texas to sue.

But with *** you could block that pesky neighbor and crazy Aunt Sally, too!

While we’re at it, let’s block the spam in our mail boxes by tripling third-class mail rates every year or so.

Enough, already.

Bill Hobby can be reached at [email protected]

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Open Government – with no strings attached

In Texas the law is clear. Governing bodies must conduct the people’s business in public or else face some serious penalties. This statute has protected the public and elected representatives alike for the past 42 years with a basic premise: Public bodies should deliberate in public.

The days of making backroom good ol’ boy deals in private are a thing of the past because the Texas Legislature outlawed it by passing the Open Meetings Act in 1967, and strengthening it in 1973 after the infamous Sharps-town scandal.

Yet, there are some serious and troubling attempts under way that could open the door for that very thing to occur. At least three Texas cities and the Texas Municipal League are endorsing a legal challenge in the courts that will render Texas’ Open Meetings laws ineffective. TML, which is supported by your tax money in the form of membership fees, is urging more than 1,100 Texas cities to sign on to a federal lawsuit.

The details of the challenge are stated simply: These public officials claim the Texas Open Meetings Act unconstitutionally restricts their right of free speech under the First Amendment. Of course, they are free to say anything they wish to anyone they wish at any time they wish. However, when they are meeting as a quorum of a governmental body, they must say it in front of the public at an open meeting.

Even more importantly, the First Amendment cannot be a shield to prevent accountability of public officials, but guarantees access to the workings of these governmental bodies just like it does to our courts.

TML wants criminal penalties such as jail time stripped from the law that has protected the public for more than four decades. It believes the current language is too punitive and argues “… less restrictive penalties would not only continue to preserve the integrity of the Texas Open Meetings Act but would also recognize the fundamental right of city officials to free speech.”

In other words, if public officials break the law in the future by conducting business in secret — i.e., exercising their rights to free speech behind closed doors, a slap on the wrist should be punishment enough.

It simply defies logic and apparently not all of TML’s own members agree with this position. As reported in The Brownsville Herald, Nov. 21, 2009, TML board member and Mercedes Mayor Joel Quintanilla said, “Either I misunderstood the entire meeting or something is happening. The way I understood it, we all (board members) voted in favor of keeping the restrictive penalties, not lessening them.” Quintanilla went on to say, “We didn’t want elected officials to get comfortable.”

He’s not the only one apparently confused by TML’s action. Mercedes Commissioner Ruben Guajardo is also quoted as saying, “The consensus (of the TML Resolutions Committee) was that things were fine the way they were (with the Texas Open Meetings Act) and that trying to reinvent the wheel was not in the best interest of everyone involved …. We (the resolutions committee) felt that to change something (in the meetings act) was just not correct. It really wasn’t right. The consensus was to leave the Texas Meetings Act the way it is.”

I couldn’t agree with Commissioner Guajardo or Mayor Quintanilla more. As a member of the public, I am left confused by what is happening, and why. But I do know this. I don’t want elected officials to get too comfortable either, because I have seen firsthand what can happen if they do.

I hope you will join me in supporting the idea that the Open Meetings Act should be left intact and open government, without any strings attached, should continue to be the law in Texas. I also urge you to contact your city leaders and encourage them not to join in this effort that could weaken the Texas Open Meetings laws.

If clarifications are needed to address modern day changes such as electronic and digital communications, then they should be made at the statehouse — not city hall. And, at a minimum, you should point out to your public servants that any discussion on this or any other issue involving free speech should be debated in a public meeting instead of a rubber-stamp style vote to please Austin lobbyists.

Hobby served as Texas lieutenant governor 1973-91.

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Test 1: Before Saving the Nation’s Banks, Jones Bailed Out Houston

As the world struggles to come to grips with the global financial crisis, it might be instructive to look at how Jesse Jones and other Houston leaders dealt with an earlier banking calamity.

The Chronicle’s Loren Steffy recently published an interview with Jones biographer Steven Fenberg describing how Jones, chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, saved the nation’s banking system.

Before he went to Washington in 1932 to serve on the RFC board, Jones saved Houston’s banks. In effect he created a Houston Deposit Insurance Corporation before Congress created the federal version (FDIC).

In 1931, the Public National Bank, owned by W. L. Moody of Galveston, and the Houston National Bank, owned by Gov. Ross Sterling, were in deep trouble. Public National was sure to close, to be followed by Houston National and hundreds of smaller banks in other counties and states whose reserves were in those two large institutions.

According to Fenberg, “Jones saved the banks not by passing a law but by calling together Houston’s bankers to hammer out a bail-out plan.” They met in his office atop the Gulf Building on Sunday afternoon, October 25, 1931. The meeting was long and rancorous. At 2 a.m. Monday morning, Mr. Jones called another Houston icon, Captain James A. Baker, for support. Captain Baker, vacationing in Massachusetts, helped persuade the holdouts and the group finally agreed to supply $1.25 million ($14 million in today’s dollars) to keep the banks open.

Captain Baker had earlier kept a murderer and a forger from stealing the money William Marsh Rice had left to fund Rice Institute. He is the grandfather of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

The money came from 12 local banks, the electric, gas and telephone companies, and Anderson Clayton & Co.

By Tuesday morning, Mr. Jones’ National Bank of Commerce owned Public National Bank. Joseph Meyer owned Houston National. The pool formed by the local leaders was sufficient to pay depositors, to support the transition and to guarantee Houston’s banks.

A couple of days after the emergency meeting, Jones wrote Captain Baker, “My telephone talk with you the other night gave us real courage after several days and nights of a very harrowing experience. I felt that none of us had a right not to stop the tragedy that would have followed our failing to do that which we did.”

Fenberg said Jones’ actions helped save Houston’s banks. “As a result of Jesse Jones’ initiative, and because local leadership put community well-being first, Houston banks did not fail during the Great Depression,” he said.

Other cities were not so fortunate in their leadership. Jones wrote a letter of thanks to one of the bailout opponents who came around at the last minute, “I believe that all we have done, are doing and must continue doing, is necessary for the general welfare. We cannot escape being our brother’s keeper.”

Fenberg says, “After Jones went to Washington as a board member of the RFC, he urged Henry Ford to form a pool to save Detroit’s banks, similar to what had successfully been done before in Houston. Only this time, instead of only local and private action, the federal government, through the RFC, was a willing participant.”

Jones agreed to lend $65 million ($833 million today) to the Union Guardian Trust Company if Ford agreed to contribute to the rescue fund and allow smaller depositors and investors to have first claim on the bank’s resources before he collected his $20 million ($244 million today) in deposits. According to Jones, “Mr. Ford refused to put his chips into the kitty and said, ‘Let the crash come. There isn’t any reason why I the largest individual taxpayer in the country, should bail the government out of its loans to banks.”

The result was predictable. Jones recalled, “The closing of all banks in the motor capital was the principal prelude to the collapse, during the next three weeks, of the nation’s entire financial system.”

Jones asked J. P. Morgan to form a pool to save the New York banks. Morgan refused and the New York banks also failed. The Great Depression was on.

Another Houston banking story from the Depression era also illustrates the value of putting community well being before self interest.

Houstonian Jakie Friedman ran a gambling house called “Domain Privee” in a colonial mansion off South Main. He banked with the First National Bank.

There was a run on the bank. Depositors were lined up around the block to withdraw their money. Friedman asked Judge James Elkins, the bank president, if he should withdraw his money.

Judge Elkins said, “Mr. Friedman, if you tell me know that you are withdrawing your money, I will lock the doors and close the bank. If you leave your money in, we may make it.”

Friedman left his money in and the bank did not close. Friedman never had any more banking problems in Houston. He eventually moved to Las Vegas and built The Sands in the early 1950s.

During the Great Depression, Jesse Jones and Jakie Friedman, unlike Henry Ford, put their community first. Jones knowingly explained to a colleague after finalizing Houston’s 1931 bailout, “Other communities are having plenty of bank troubles and all of them will pay dearly for not stopping the fire before it starts.”

Bill Hobby was Lieutenant Governor of Texas 1973-91.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Contact information for editors:
2131 San Felipe
Houston, Texas 77019

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Fraudulent voting in the Texas House of Representatives has been going on for a long time. It reached a new low last year when the House passed the “voter ID” bill to prevent fraudulent voting at the polls, of which there is little evidence.

Of fraudulent voting in the House there is ample evidence. It’s called “button-pushing.” Channel 42 in Austin filmed Texas House members voting fraudulently to keep other people from voting fraudulently. Google “You-Tube-Texas Legislation” and see the action.

Each member’s desk in the House has a set of buttons on which a member can vote aye, no or present not voting. When a member is away from his or her desk, the member can lock the buttons to prevent fraudulent voting but almost never does.

The fraudulent voting to prevent fraudulent voting has become so notorious that Speaker Tom Craddick last Nov. 29 asked the House Administration Committee to “study and make recommendations for alternative voting devices in the Texas House Chamber and make recommendations before the next session.”

That study can be quickly done by looking at the electronic voting system in the U.S. House of Representatives and automated teller machines all over the country. Rule XI of the U. S. House on electronic voting says:

“A number of vote stations are attached to selected chairs in the Chamber. Each station is equipped with a vote card slot and four indicators, marked ‘yea,’ ‘nay,’ ‘present’ and ‘open’ that are lit when a vote is in progress and the system is ready to accept votes. Each member is provided with an encrypted Vote-ID Card. A member votes by inserting the voting card into any one of the vote stations and depressing the appropriate button to indicate the member’s choice.”

There have been no complaints of fraudulent voting in the U. S. House.

The Texas House should use an electronic voting machine similar to the one in the U. S. House and pass a similar rule. The U. S. House and all the banks in the country know how to prevent fraud. Maybe the Texas House can learn, too.

What’s to be done in the meantime to restore the integrity of the Texas House? Once again, the answer is simple. Every state official takes the oath prescribed by the state Constitution (Section XVI, Article 1). The official swears to “faithfully execute the duties of the office and to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

A member who pushes another member’s button votes fraudulently and violates the oath. Under the Texas Constitution the House is the judge of its members. To regain and maintain its integrity the Texas House should expel its faithless members.

Bill Hobby was Lieutenant Governor of Texas 1973-91.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Contact information for editors:
2131 San Felipe
Houston, Texas 77019

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I had no Republican opponent when I first ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and was re-elected in 1974 and 1978 without much opposition, but in 1982 the Repubs decided my free ride was over. My opponent was George Strake, a Houston oilman who had been appointed Secretary of State by Governor Bill Clements.

Little did I know what dark forces confronted me! Karl Rove was Strake’s campaign manger!

Strake came after me with the usual Rove stuff—I spent too much state money and I was soft on illegal aliens. Worse than that, the state budget had grown! It certainly had, but not by nearly enough. Texas, then as now, was one of the fastest growing states and trails the nation in public education and public services.

Strake didn’t want undocumented workers to go to public schools. I guess he wanted them to go on welfare or to prison.

In the fall of 1982, I had a fifteen-minute debate with Strake on KERA, the public television station in Dallas. George Christian and Don Adams and my campaign staff had prepared a briefing book with answers to every conceivable question and accusation. I left the briefing book on the plane.

Strake went first. “What a shame,” he said, “that we have only fifteen minutes to this debate. It would be impossible to fully air all the great issues of state in that brief time!” He offered to pay for a longer debate.

“George,” I said, “keep your money. Fifteen minutes is more than enough time for you tell us all you know about state government. I will use my time to ask for support for the constitutional amendment to raise the ceiling on welfare expenditures, which is also on the ballot this year.”

A reporter compared the non-debate to a scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones is confronted by a Turkish bad guy wielding a scimitar. He whirls and twirls and tosses his scimitar around for the crowd and while he is showing off, Indiana Jones shoots him.

Strake is a Roman Catholic. He made a television spot emphasizing his ties to the Pope. The spot was intended to run in South Texas. His campaign probably wasn’t helped when it somehow ran in East Texas.

It was Karl Rove’s finest campaign. It took a genius to get forty-two percent for Strake! And it gave Karl experience that would later serve him well campaigning for other problem candidates.

When I was ran in 1986, Strake was Chair of the Texas Republican Party. He said that I would not be a target for the Republican Party. “We will focus our resources on other races”, he said.

Bill Hobby was Lieutenant Governor of Texas 1973-91. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contact information for editors:
2131 San Felipe
Houston, Texas 77019


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The Hobbys and the Johnsons have been friends for three generations now, bound together by broadcasting and government.

Mrs. Johnson was the broadcaster in the family.

Luci Baines Johnson grew up in both businesses, as did I.

Sam Ealy Johnson, President Johnson’s father, and I.W. Culp, my grandfather, served together in the Texas House of Representatives.

Mrs. Johnson began her broadcasting career as the owner of a radio station in Austin then bought a television station. Of course the call letters of both stations were and are KLBJ. Mrs. Johnson later bought stations in other Texas cities.

Being married to a public official is no easy task for a woman. Mrs. Johnson was the only such wife and mother I ever knew that enjoyed it. Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson are the showcases what a great job she did.

Wildflowers were, of course, Mrs. Johnson’s passion. She started a program to beautify Texas highways by sponsoring a contest among Highway Department district engineers to see who had could most beautify their highways.

She founded the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center outside of Austin.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is working on several projects that use native plants to combat climate change.

Global warming is caused by carbon dioxide. Plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. In urban areas, well-planned landscapes can not only pull CO2 from the air, but store it in the soil for decades.

One Wildflower Center product, done in cooperation with the Seattle-based environmental company, Mithun, is an open-user, web-based carbon calculator which can aid developers in calculating the total carbon footprint of their projects.

It’s one more tool to deal with perhaps the greatest challenge now facing the earth. It goes hand in hand with the Wildflower Center’s work on green roofs, which reduce energy demand in the buildings beneath them, and standards for sustainable landscapes.

The Center preserves seeds of species of flowers that would otherwise become extinct. That environmental research will continue because, a year before Mrs. Johnson died, the Center became a part of the College of Natural Sciences at University of Texas at Austin.

President Johnson is memorialized by the Lyndon B. Johnson Museum, Library, and School of Public Affairs (where I used to teach).

LBJ left his letters and tapes to the library with a stipulation that they not be released until 35 years after his death—next year. Several years ago, Mrs. Johnson decided to start releasing them as soon as possible.

The archiving process is long and tedious. Under federal law the archivists must have security clearances. There is still concern about releasing information that may have been acquired by breaking other nations’ codes and compromising our country’s ability to get that kind of intelligence.

Perhaps twenty percent of the information has now been published electronically or in print, beginning with the material relating to the Kennedy assassination.

We are farther down that road than we would have been but for Mrs. Johnson’s concern about the openness and availability of public documents, tapes, and videos.

In contrast, President George W. Bush loves secrecy and has made information in more recent Presidential libraries harder to get.

Mrs. Johnson finished the course and kept the faith. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

We shall not see her like again.

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The poll tax was eliminated by the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it was used by former Confederate States to keep poor people, black and white, from voting.

But the Texas Legislature never ratified the amendment. It almost, but not quite, did so in the last session. The proposed legislation was sponsored by two black Houston legislators: Representative Alma Allen and Senator Rodney Ellis. House Joint Resolution 39 passed the House unanimously (Speaker Craddick abstaining). It passed the Senate State Affairs Committee unanimously and was put on the Uncontested Calendar.

But, somehow, it never passed the Senate.

Maybe it would have passed if Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst had supported HJR 39 as strongly as he (unsuccessfully) did the twentieth-century version of the poll tax. Republicans wanted to recycle the poll tax into photo ID to keep blacks and browns from voting Democratic.

How things change—in a way! In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Democrats imposed the poll tax to keep blacks from voting Republican.

There is certainly black humor in the history of the issue.

In 1865 the North had just won the Civil War. But somehow it didn’t feel that way to the members of Congress (all Northern, of course).

“If we won the Civil War, how come we still have a Rebel President (Andrew Johnson of Tennessee)? Well we’ll fix that! We’ll impeach him (they did) and kick him out (they didn’t)!” thought the Congressmen.

“Never mind! We’ve freed the slaves with the Thirteenth Amendment!

“Wait a minute—now that we’ve freed the slaves we’ll have to count all of them (not just 3/5) in apportioning Congress and the Rebs will have a bunch more members in the House.

“We’ll have to fix that! We know the Rebs aren’t going to let the blacks vote. So we’ll pass the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Fourteenth Amendment says that if a state “in any way abridged” the right to vote of any male over 21 that state’s representation in Congress would be reduced. (The federal Constitution wasn’t amended to let women vote until 1920. The Texas Constitution, thanks to me father, was amended earlier.)

The Yankees were right, but they didn’t mean what they said. Sure enough, the Rebs imposed poll taxes to keep blacks from voting Republican, but I don’t know that any state’s representation was ever reduced.

After Reconstruction eleven Southern states passed poll taxes to keep poor black and white people from voting. Texas passed it in 1902.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy urged Congress “to finally eliminate this outmoded and arbitrary bar to voting. American citizens should not have to pay to vote.”

On January 23, 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment was ratified to ban the poll tax in federal elections.

On February 4, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson, the first Texan to be president, said that abolishing the tax requirement, “reaffirmed the simple but unbreakable theme of this Republic. Nothing is so valuable as liberty, and nothing is so necessary to liberty as the freedom to vote without bans or barriers.… A change in our Constitution is a serious event.… There can now be no one too poor to vote.”

In 1964, Texas was one of only five states still levying a poll tax. Following the recommendation of Gov. John B. Connally, the Legislature had proposed an amendment in 1963 repealing the poll tax provision in the Texas Constitution, but it was rejected by the voters. But in 1966 Texas voters finally approved another amendment doing the same thing.

Maybe next time the Texas Legislature will ratify the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution to ban the poll tax, a long-overdue gesture. Maybe the Lege will even ratify the Twenty-third Amendment letting citizens in the District of Columbia vote for President.

Bill Hobby was Lieutenant Governor of Texas 1973-91. Hobby
can be reached at [email protected].

Contact information for editors:
2131 San Felipe
Houston, Texas 77019

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