House of Corrections

September 2005By Comments

Your justification for including me on the Ten Worst list was primarily based on your false assertion that I was to blame for the demise of a judicial pay raise bill [“The Best and Worst Legislators of 2005,” July 2005]. In fact, I voted “present not voting” on the original version of the bill that passed the House and was sent to the Senate. The reason I did not vote up or down on the House-approved version of the bill is because my sister is a state district judge.

When the bill thereafter returned from the Senate, it had been loaded with additional subjects that rendered the bill legally flawed due to violations of a state constitutional prohibition against mixing disparate issues into one bill. I informed my House colleagues in a personal-privilege speech of the constitutional issues as well as of other concerns about the propriety of the Senate’s actions surrounding the bill.

Contrary to your article’s assertion, I did not kill the bill. I never even had the opportunity to do so because the subsequent amended version did not ever come up for consideration on the House floor. That bill died at the session’s end because a senator threatened to filibuster if it didn’t include the other nongermane subjects.
Representative Terry Keel
Austin

Editor’s note: The reason that the judicial pay raise bill did not come up for consideration on the House floor is that Mr. Keel gave a speech to the House in which he said, “I will call a constitutional point of order in the House should SB 368 be brought up on this floor for concurrence with the Senate amendments, and I believe the point I have in mind will be sustained.” Mr. Keel’s announced intention to employ a parliamentary maneuver guaranteed to kill the bill made any further attempt to pass it futile.

As an active participant in Texas and national school reform, mostly with the late lieutenant governor Bob Bullock and Governor (and now president) George Bush, I have watched and worked with Representative Kent Grusendorf for many years. In the recent regular session alone, he pushed for more funding for public education. He pushed for needed reform in the areas of greater financial and academic accountability. He pushed for higher standards for our students. He deserves credit for his work. In my view, your negative rating of him is unwarranted.
Sandy Kress
Austin

I am sure your issue ranking the The Best and Worst Legislators is a popular issue, especially with Austin-centric readers. Ranking is an American habit, and I generally applaud and accept it. However, when giving negative rankings to individuals, I believe a high standard should prevail, and there is one such ranking in 2005 to which I object strongly.

Your inclusion of Kent Grusendorf on the Worst list is unfair, in my opinion. Kent Grusendorf has for two decades been an educational reformer, at times alone in the House of Representatives, proposing common-sense politics that have now become mainstream but which have always been strongly resisted by the education establishment, or the “Glob.”

The failure in leadership in public education in 2005 firmly rests with that education establishment. It has taken an arrogant and hostile position on any proposal to improve the system and has openly decided to rely on the courts to get the only thing it wants—more money. Representative Grusendorf was charged with negotiating with the Glob and found it totally uncooperative, especially after its win in district court. For you to hold the chairman of the House Public Education Committee responsible is unfair and not correct.

In the Texas Senate, there were also some attempts to negotiate with the Glob. Reform proposals produced were similar to the House’s. Many members of your Best list of legislators voted for these reforms.

These radical reforms included merit pay for teachers, fiscal accountability for districts, higher academic standards, and dealing, finally, with schools that are abject failures year after year. Now these are really radical reforms! The educators strongly resist all of them. The failure rests with the Glob. Put them on your Worst list. Criticize their representatives in the Legislature.

As a side point, the reference to reforms having derived from “an ideological think tank in California” is a disappointment. Perhaps there are nonideological think tanks somewhere, and I know that people in Austin are too sophisticated to accept ideas from California or from a distinguished group of national experts. However, the important point is the reality that many of the reforms originated in the business community of Texas and are strongly endorsed by a significant part of that community. The fact that the Glob opposes these responsible efforts to improve our schools is disgraceful—and surely not a failure on the part of Kent Grusendorf.

The financial problems facing current policymakers are the result of cumulative actions taken by the courts or not taken by elected leaders over many years. It is clearly a very difficult situation to resolve, and similar problems all over America indicate that more than one individual is responsible. The common ingredient nationally is the education establishment.

If Texas school districts were ranked annually for financial performance in a timely, transparent manner, which is one of the proposed reforms, billions of dollars could be reallocated to best practices—you could have another edition of popular rankings every year—and Texans would have far better schools for their money.
Charles Miller
Former chairman of the Board of Regents, University of Texas System
Houston

As president of the Texas Association of Business and as a former member of the Texas Legislature, I have a great deal of respect for your magazine. Those of us who follow the legislative process look forward to your reporting of the Ten Best and Ten Worst Legislators; however, I must take issue with your including Representative Kent Grusendorf on your list of the Ten Worst for the Seventy-ninth session.

Your article criticizes Grusendorf for not giving educators input into crafting his bill. His committee listened to countless hours of testimony from the education community, where he heard, among other things, a constant cry for more money.

Education excellence is not necessarily the result of more money. It is achieved through administrators who manage well, teachers who motivate their students, and parents who show interest in what their kids learn.

Grusendorf’s bill demanded a bang for the taxpayer buck, perhaps a novel idea in the education world. He fought for efficiency and accountability, teacher incentive pay, and tougher consequences for failing schools.

As a minority member of the House Public Education Committee for many years, Representative Grusendorf toiled in the fields while his opinions on education were neither sought nor taken seriously. As committee chair, Grusendorf has evolved into a true leader whose knowledge of the intricacies of school issues is impressive. If anything, he should be on the Ten Best list.
Bill Hammond
Austin

Kent Grusendorf as one of the Ten Worst Legislators? Amazing! At least you admit you were just imposing your personal views: You didn’t like his legislation. Do you really think education reform is mostly about the money and that if the education establishment does not like something, it must be bad?

In fact, Grusendorf was key to making more money available than I anticipated. And by your standard, I suppose, we should all support insurance legislation supported by the insurance industry and energy legislation driven by Big Oil. Here I thought legislators were supposed to represent the people. In other public policy arenas, you champion the needs of the consumers. In education, it seems, you are more interested in the needs of the suppliers.

Grusendorf’s push for efficiency, transparency, and accountability is exactly what public education needs. And his insistence on empowering voters is exactly what all good democrats should want. You apparently just don’t understand that transforming power of end-of-course examinations for high school students, November elections for school boards, state provision of online best practices for school districts, extensive use of educational technology for curriculum delivery and student assessment, and many of the other reform measures Grusendorf carried.

I have watched Grusendorf’s leadership in the Texas House since my first election to the Houston ISD Board of Education, in 1989, and have seen him, with an unwavering commitment to excellence in public education and growing mastery of the complexity of the system, become the most knowledgeable education policymaker in the state. What has already been achieved in Texas owes as much to Grusendorf as almost anyone else. In my view, the Seventy-ninth Legislature was for him a personal triumph: the coming together of his passion for excellence, his knowledge of public education, and his power as chairman of the House Public Education Committee just when Texas needed real reform leadership from the Legislature.

Notwithstanding the failure of the House and Senate to agree, he was most certainly the right man at the right time, and I don’t believe his time is over. The Legislature may yet create a state policy framework that will make Texas public schools the best in the nation. If it does, it will be to a significant degree because of Kent Grusendorf.
Donald R. McAdams
Bellaire

I have been a subscriber to texas monthly for more than twenty years. It was once a magazine that I read from cover to cover because it contained articles of interest about our great state and information about events throughout the state.

Within the past two years, however, your editorial style of writing, under the “flag” of interest articles, has been reflecting a liberal political philosophy, constantly attacking Republican officeholders. This trend has continued to become more pronounced throughout your magazine. To those of us who hold a more conservative political philosophy, this is not appreciated and has become insulting.

It was reported in the Waco Tribune-Herald that Texas Monthly has dubbed our freshman Republican House member Charles “Doc” Anderson as “furniture,” indicating that he is ineffective at his job. You need to understand that Representative Anderson was quite effective and represented his constituents well. As an “unknown freshman representative,” he introduced eleven pieces of legislation, of which six passed. Not bad for an unknown freshman. He quietly worked to develop contacts and make alliances with members of both parties to assure his effectiveness in the future. Both the governor and the Speaker were very complimentary of his role in Austin. The Texas Monthly designation of “furniture” simply tells me that he does not meet your left-wing, liberal criteria.
John Hatchel
Woodway

Pot Roast

Gary Cartwright sounds like a snake-oil salesman when he touts pot as medicine [“Weed All About It,” July 2005]. The marijuana lobby, who funded these initiatives in Texas, stated that it would use “medical marijuana” as a “red herring” to get marijuana legalized for recreational use. Marijuana in its smoked or crude form is not a safe or effective treatment for any condition. Public policy related to drugs should be based on science, not on misinformation provided by marijuana lobbyists. Texas lawmakers were wise to reject this pro-pot propaganda.
Stephanie Haynes
Save Our Society From Drugs
Alpine

The Drug Enforcement Administration sees the tragic reality of drug use every day, and it is a reality that leaves no doubt that drugs are illegal—and must remain so— because they are dangerous, leaving only addiction and ruined lives in their wake. This year’s drug control budget is $12 billion, and we are balancing prevention, treatment, and targeted enforcement against traffickers, and the return on our investment is significant. We’ve seen an 18 percent drop in teens’ use of marijuana, because, unlike Mr. Cartwright, teens are learning the consequences of this drug. Marijuana has been shown to cause cognitive impairment, including distorted perception and memory loss. What’s more, the potency of marijuana has increased since the seventies. It is a far more powerful drug now than the one that seems to be stoking Mr. Cartwright’s nostalgia, and it is claiming more victims, with more teens in treatment each year for marijuana dependence than for alcohol and all other illegal drugs combined. In addition to its harm, marijuana has no proven medicinal benefits—a conclusion reached not by Washington “politicians” but by the major voices in the medical community. The American Medical Association, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the American Cancer Society have all rejected marijuana as medicine.

The fight against drugs and the ignorance that fuels drug abuse continues. America is winning, because we have too much sense, and too much at stake, to lose.
James Craig, Special Agent-in-Charge,
Houston Field Division
Gary Olenkiewicz, Special Agent-in-Charge,
Dallas Field Division
Alfredo Ortega, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge,
El Paso Field Division
Drug Enforcement Administration


Buyer Remorse

The recent story “Home Buyer Beware” [August 2005] might have left a mistaken impression that Dick Weekley, and possibly Texans for Lawsuit Reform, was involved in the creation of the Residential Construction Commission. In fact, Mr. Weekley and TLR were working exclusively at the time toward the enactment of extremely complex and comprehensive civil justice reform legislation under House Bill 4.

Further, since Dick Weekley and his family are in the homebuilding business, Mr. Weekley deliberately decided that he should not engage in legislative advocacy for the residential construction legislation because doing so might be misconstrued by some and misrepresented by others, to the potential harm of the civil justice reform movement. Therefore, any suggestion that Dick Weekley was engaged in the legislative efforts to address lawsuit abuses in the homebuilding industry is simply off the mark.
Ken Hoagland
Communications director
Texans for Lawsuit Reform
Houston

Editor’s Note: Mr. Hoagland is correct in saying that Dick Weekley limited his advocacy role to comprehensive civil justice reform and was not engaged in the effort to create the Texas Residential Construction Commission. The reference to Mr. Weekley in the article was intended solely to convey that his, and TLR’s, support for tort reform helped create “an anti-lawsuit fervor,” one of the collateral consequences of which was to make the climate more suitable for the TRCC legislation to achieve passage.

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