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Serving Dan Patrick Instead of Their Districts

Why do some senators prioritize Dan Patrick’s whims over their constituents?

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Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, center, with other legislators and supporters of Senate Bill 6, talks to the media at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas.
AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

There’s a saying in the Legislature: Members, vote your districts. But when you look at the votes of state Senators Charles Perry of Lubbock, Dawn Buckingham of Horseshoe Bay, and Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, you have to wonder whether their constituency is comprised of people in their districts or Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. The three of them, whose districts span one-third of Texas almost contiguously—from the Panhandle southeast to the coast—consistently voted for the lieutenant governor’s priorities throughout this session. Not once did one of them vote against Patrick’s top twenty legislative priorities, or his full thirty priorities, for that matter.

Let’s take a look at their votes on two Patrick priorities: creation of private school vouchers and lowering local property tax revenue caps.

In rural Texas, independent school districts are often the center and future of local society, as well as a primary economic driver. Voters are far removed from “school choice”—geographically and philosophically. Perry, Buckingham, and Kolkhorst each voted for Patrick’s private school voucher plan. Republican Senators Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville have similar dynamics and results in their districts, and both voted against vouchers. And even though the Lubbock ISD opposed the bill in all of its iterations, Perry voted for it after he amended it to carve out rural school districts. The Lubbock ISD apparently saw even the reduced bill as the camel’s nose sticking through Perry’s tent.

But members of the House are closer to the people. Their districts are smaller, and they run for re-election every two years instead of four like the senators. Senators Perry, Buckingham, and Kolkhorst don’t face the voters again until 2020, but the state representatives in their districts face the voters next year. So how did they vote on “school choice”? Twenty-two out of 28 representatives who call these three their senator voted against vouchers in the House this session. All 28 are Republican, so this wasn’t a partisan vote. It was a vote-your-district vote for lawmakers who are accountable to voters instead of Dan Patrick.

The six pro-voucher House members accounted for just five percent of the total 2016 GOP primary votes for all representatives within the three districts. That should send a message to Perry, Buckingham, and Kolkhorst that they are on the wrong side of their constituents.

The triumvirate’s votes for private school vouchers don’t add up mathematically. Nor do they politically.

In Kolkhorst’s district, eight of ten state representatives voted nay on vouchers. Three of those nays overlap Kolkhorst’s Fort Bend County lines, where she received 28 percent of her 2016 primary vote. It also the county from which Kristin Tassin, president of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees, has written blistering, well-publicized anti-voucher columns in statewide publications before and during the session.

Buckingham won an open seat in a district where eight of ten state representatives voted against vouchers. New to voters, she maintained a moderate school choice message throughout the 2016 primary. However, some voters might’ve begun to feel like they loaded the wrong wagon when she donned a voucher-yellow scarf and proclaimed it was time to pass school choice in Texas at a Capitol rally in January.

If vouchers demonstrate the extent to which Patrick’s rural triumvirate is compelled to vote against constituencies (voters and non-voters alike), support for property tax revenue caps indicates the scope of turmoil they are willing to bring upon their respective districts.

Billed as “property tax reform” by Patrick and a probable cause of bankruptcy by rural leaders, Senate Bill 2 would have required local governments to hold automatic November rollback elections before property tax revenues can increase 5 percent or more from the previous year (currently, signed petitions can call elections at 8 percent or more). In rural areas, officials manage the budgetary algebra of non-growth populations, capped tax rates, land valuations that shift with annual rainfall and global farm commodity prices, plus potential natural disasters and capital murder trials, as well as erratic mineral valuations that can hit city and county ledgers like a natural disaster.

In an nine-minute floor speech leading up to the vote, Perry overviewed rural problems with the bill, stating that most in his 51 counties see it “as a personal assault on their ability to govern on a local level.” And even though “a lot in this session has become very tough on my rural communities on so many levels,” Perry voted for SB 2, along with bill co-sponsors Buckingham and Kolkhorst, as well as Nichols. Seliger voted nay again.

Most state political observers now accept the political reality this publication put on its February cover: Dan Patrick is in charge of Texas.

Some privately sympathize with the “immense pressure” senators are under. But others don’t. Especially those—*cough* House members *cough*—who believe senators get the chamber they deserve. A Patrickocracy was inevitable in a Texas Senate that passes budgets unanimously and raises no points of order when constitutional periods are violated, a chamber that two years ago changed its rules to lower the threshold for debate from 20 to 19 votes (and in the regular session of the Eighty-fifth Legislature, not one of our trio voted against debate, even though a single nay vote could’ve prevented vouchers or caps from reaching the floor).

Patrick’s drive of this legislative session launched from such a Senate, and was fueled by rural senators who would rather cozy up to Patrick than serve the people who elected them.

Jay Leeson is a West Texas businessman whose hobbies include being a Lubbock-based political columnist and talk radio host. Follow him on Twitter @jayleeson

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  • WUSRPH

    Based on what Abbott announced today, you could add the name Greg Abbott to the list of people who apparently will disregard the best interests of their constituents to keep Danny happy.

  • Texas Publius

    Gov. Hodge-Patrick calls the 2nd Regular Session!

    I do wonder if the House Ds even bother to leave their real jobs again and show up at the Capitol. You do need some of them to actually convene, BTW. We do know the Senate Ds will do their new master’s bidding.

    • WUSRPH

      Actually, about 8 of the Democrats will probably vote against much of the Abbott/Patrick agenda….although a few of them will do it with a wink at the podium since it is easy to “vote your principles” when it makes no difference what you do.

      • WUSRPH

        Another thing we might find out is whether Patrick will allow a Texas Medical Board sunset bill to pass that does not take care of his good buddy in bigotry Dr. Steve Hotze’s squabble with the board. It may well be a “give Hotze what he wants” situation. Watch for some language similar to that in HB 661 from the Regular Session.

  • WUSRPH

    If you haven’t been able to tell, there are a number of things that annoy, disgust and repel me about Donald Trump…..but, while it may be simplistic, the number one has to be THAT SMIRK!

  • Jed

    more breitbart? really?

  • SpiritofPearl

    “A more wretched hive of scum and villainy cannot be found in the galaxy.”

    —- Obi Wan Kenobi

    • don76550

      Mindless drivel from an idiot

    • anonyfool

      The U.S. House and Senate are in a neck and neck race with the Texas Lege for the galaxy hive’s most wretched since the Kansas Tea Party experiment exploded and they voted out a majority of the Kansas far right wingnuts.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Let’s hope that the Lege will see the light before they destroy the Texas economy like Brownback did in Kansas.

  • R1o2b3

    Senators Schmenators. It took years of stupid, hard right, bigoted turns by the Republican Party. Years of willful neglect by Republicans to get us where we are. Leeson hoisting up members of the house won’t ameliorate their own history of votes against public education. They have a part in this, too.

    In as much as rural schools are cornerstones to rural communities, there are still enough rural voters/politicians whose appetite for bigotry outmatches the importance of having adequate rural school district funding. Even in Lubbock. Politicians and self-promoters don’t mind exploiting it to their own detriment.

    They knew who Charles Perry was when he was in the House. His voting record was just as anti-public education, racist, and bigoted as Patrick has ever been. Perry hasn’t changed much as a Senator, either. Certainly, not when it comes to vouchers.

    Now you have these folks and their enablers kicking and screaming because they put themselves in a pickle. House members, and radio personalities don’t understand themselves very well.

    Don’t feel too bad for Abbott, either. He’s taken excellent care of Patrick. Paved the way. As attorney general, Abbott defended every previous cut to education and every bigoted piece of legislation ruled discriminatory that Patrick himself voted for. Most notably, Texas’ racist voting and districting ruled intentionally discriminatory.

  • don76550

    I applaud our Lt Gov and he does represent the people’s wishes, as does Sen Buckingham, my senator, who is doing an excellent job.

    • Barret Thomas

      In which state do you reside? This article is about the Texas Lt. Gov.

      • don76550

        Texas.

    • TacoRub

      TIme to change your hearing and vision prescription. We don’t give points for occupying seats that call for action.

      • don76550

        Actually, taco breath, my vision and hearing is just fine. I know a democrat liar when I hear one and I know a democrat traitor when I see one. I suspect your problem with Dan Patrick is he doesn’t wipe his feet on the American flag or wipe his butt with the bill of rights like the democrat party does.

  • Brena

    The writer takes many liberties and maintains his assumptions are facts and indisputable truths.
    Although, I do believe Patrick has much influence with the more conservative Senators and takes up too much of their time, I believe the writer is mostly speaking from the con side of these Bills.
    The school choice bill is a matter of liberty. Having the freedom to use your taxes to educate your child as each parent sees as appropriate is a freedom issue.
    Also, the article puts forth the idea that most rural counties in SD 18 do not have private schools, and that all are totally dependent on and would choose public schools, when in fact, we know this is not the case. Also, knowing liberals and most parents who support public schools, there will never be less money allotted to them because a private school student receives some funds.
    On the question of property taxes, I would agree to lowering the thresh hold for roll back elective referendums to 5% if the citizens desire, just not mandatory elections. Mandates need to stop coming from the State Government.
    One point the article did not mention, the fact the SREC members just all signed a letter of planks for which they want support and included in a special session. Both issues are in their request and the SREC represent most Republicans in the state and their wishes.
    So, for him to say that Senator Kolkhorst is not representing her voters is just incorrect with no basis of facts.

    • R1o2b3

      Public schools educate about 94% of Texas k-12 students. It is common knowledge that rural school districts depend almost entirely on public schools, not that private schools don’t exist at all. By your logic, the entire State of Texas, especially, rural areas, are as liberal as California.

      Do you actually know the number of private schools and students in rural SD18 and can you provide the thread with that information?

      I’m no fan of Jay Leeson, but what in the following quote do you not understand or disregard as basis of fact?

      “In Kolkhorst’s district, eight of ten state representatives voted nay on vouchers. Three of those nays overlap Kolkhorst’s Fort Bend County lines, where she received 28 percent of her 2016 primary vote. It also the county from which Kristin Tassin, president of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees, has written blistering, well-publicized anti-voucher columns in statewide publications before and during the session.”

      This is all documented.

      • Brena

        Thank you for this discussion and opportunity to respond.
        True there are many rural counties that depend heavily on public schools, and I can not speak to the situation in the entire state, but I can comment on SD18 which is represented by Senator Kolkhorst. I have not taken the time before this response to obtain the exact number of not only private schools but also Home Schoolers. In my small 23,000 pop. county alone, there is one private in each town and the max population in each is 5,000 citizens/city. I can say that the 2 rural counties next to us have more per city.
        I am not sure I understand your remark about California. Maybe you think my remark that most parents, liberal , moderate, or conservative, would not allow underfunding of public schools. Neither would I or Senator Kolkhorst. Neither she nor I have anything against public schools. My kids, grandkids, and Senator Kolkhorst’s children go to public school.
        The most important reason listed as to why I and Senator Kolkhorst support vouchers, you totally ignored. It is freedom and the liberty to choose to spend my money on my choice of eduction for my child. That over rides your desire to keep all funding out of fear of underfunding public schools.
        As for the Mr Leeson, he makes the accusation that Senator Kolkhorst does not represent her constituents, but instead votes as Lt Governor Pactrick bids her. That is simply false, and if he knew the Senator personally and was truthful, he would not be stating that idea as fact.
        Contrary to many beliefs, public schools could still be funded on a normal basis, and parents of home or private school could also receive relief from the burden of spending double to educate their child.

        • R1o2b3

          Do you have a town name, school name, a link, or website for these private schools in your county? What number of children attend these schools? Am just curious. Thanks.

          As to the liberty question, I’ll refer you back to the response by “jupiterlee”. We live in a democratic Republic and liberty comes with a balance of needs and rights. I’d also refer you to the Texas Constitution regarding public education.

          • Brena

            Lavaca County

            Hallettsville-population 2,550

            Sacred Heart – http://www.shschool.org/
            Pre K -3 thru 12 Total 305

            Shiner:population- 2,069
            Shiner Catholic School-http://www.shinercatholicschool.org/
            pre K thru 12

            Yoakum – population 5,815
            St Joseph Catholic School- http://stjcatholicschool.com/
            per K – grade 8

            Providence Christian Academy
            K thru !2

            Lavaca County

            Hallettsville-population 2,550

            Sacred Heart – http://www.shschool.org/
            Pre K -3 thru 12 Total 305

            Shiner:population- 2,069
            Shiner Catholic School-http://www.shinercatholicschool.org/
            pre K thru 12

            Yoakum – population 5,815
            St Joseph Catholic School- http://stjcatholicschool.com/
            per K – grade 8

            Providence Christian Academy
            K thru !2

        • WestTexan70

          You couldn’t be more wrong. I have no children and have paid taxes for more than 35 years to send kids to public schools. I happily do so. However, I have zero desire to pay to send kids to private schools. You have the “freedom” to send your children to them, but stop asking for handouts to send your kids to them. You folks who want your “freedumbs” are maddening. Go ahead and teach your kids that there’s a great big sky buddy who will take care of all their troubles, but don’t ask this Church-of-Christ raised native Texan to pay for it.

    • jupiterlee

      You have the freedom to educate your child however you want. You can choose a private school, home school or stick with public schools. Publ8c schools are there for all children and don’t discriminate based on ability or, I don’t know, let’s say religion. You want your tax dollars to go to private schools, okay, I don’t want my tax dollars going to a school that forces children to contemplate if babies to go hell if they die.

    • pwt7925

      So, a couple of questions for you. What do you think of Dan Patrick’s bathroom mandate? What about the several pieces of legislation that proposed to override local decisions with statewide mandates, even on issues that are principally local in character?

      With respect to the schools, we have the freedom to educate our children however we want now. Public education is as much a part of the local infrastructure as are roads and bridges. A strong community has good roads and bridges. And it has good schools.

      I’m a pretty conservative guy. I have voted Republican most of my voting life. I am not a Democrat and don’t want to become one. I want to see the money I pay in taxes spent wisely. What I find objectionable – and at times repugnant – about the Tea Party is its apparent and utter unwillingness to see that the basics of the communities its members live in are adequately provided. I am not persuaded that the Texas Tea Party as it is currently embodied has any interest in seeing that the dollars paid in taxes yield quality services.

      I agree with you that unfunded mandates from the legislature are disagreeable, particularly when the legislature is unwilling to allow cities and schools to raise enough money to pay for them. That is hypocrisy.

      With respect to SREC, I think it is fallen captive to the most extreme elements of the Republican party. and suffer from Tea Party Stockholm syndrome.

  • Anti-Partisan

    The fact is that anyone that has been in the Texas legislature for more than one term has failed our future generation in regard to public education.

    The first thing that must be done to improve the quality of academics is to free Texas public schools from bad federal mandates. The most immediate action that could be taken is to free us from the requirements of the stimiulus funds that we took under Race to the Top, in exchange for the NCLB waiver.

    I pray that Representatives like Stickland and Rinaldi will hear us on this issue and others that our illustrious senators are pushing – Next Generation Assessment and Accountability, Social Emotional Learning, Personalized Learning – all coming from federal “workforce” and ESSA legislation. If we want to save our ship, we need them to listen now!

  • TacoRub

    The Tea Party, Patrick’s strength, was like a new tea bag a couple of years ago. It is now a long-steeped bag that cannot deliver a good cup because we’ve tired of its flavor.

  • Asher B. Garber

    The Toilet Czar has an effervescent personality, obviously.

  • Jay Trainor

    Patrick and his lieutenants continue to raise the many hot-button issues to divert our attention from real issues facing this state. Doing so is classic Republican strategy to avoid making tough decisions but mainly to protect special interests.

    “In rural areas, officials manage the budgetary algebra of non-growth populations, capped tax rates, land valuations that shift with annual rainfall and global farm commodity prices, plus potential natural disasters and capital murder trials, as well as erratic mineral valuations that can hit city and county ledgers like a natural disaster.”

    The above provides all the more justification for a statewide income tax. For years, wealthy Texans have flooded candidates with contributions in order to keep their taxes lower than average taxpayer. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in 2015, the wealthiest one percent of Texans paid an average of 2.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes — the third-lowest in the nation. The poorest fifth of Texas wage earners paid over four times as much of their income — 12.5 percent.

    https://itep.org/whopays/#The 10 Most Regressive State & Local Tax Systems

    Wake up Texans, you’ve been had – again!

    • R1o2b3

      Nice comment, and an excellent link. ITEP, a great resource I’ve used for years. Texas public services and mandates are going the way of the Kansas (even Oklahoma) experiment while, as you point out, lower income earners pay a higher aggregate rate of taxation than the wealthiest Texans.