Reform Follows Function

How to fix the political system in Texas in eight easy steps.

It’s hard to believe that a year has come and gone since I lost the race for governor to a man in a $5,000 suit. That’s almost as bad as losing to the guy you’d rather go to a barbecue with and then discovering he plans to barbecue the world. What have I learned in all this time? That we’re not in Minnesota, Toto. If we’d been in Minnesota, we would have won. In fact, we won the race every place but Texas. Meanwhile, Minnesota maintains its status as the number one state for health care coverage. Texas, perhaps predictably, continues to hold down its position at the back of the caboose of the Sunset Limited. And how are we doing on education? Ask any teacher. Better yet, ask any student a few rudimentary questions about history, literature, science, or math.

Like I said during the campaign, we need to reform our political system, folks. Why is this so important? Have you ever tried to go visit your congressman and forgotten your checkbook? Have you ever wondered who actually writes the legislation that becomes the law of the land? Have you by now realized that every time a bell rings, another lobbyist gets his wings? There are good legislators, of course, who are just as frustrated as the rest of us. But unfortunately, they are rarely in power positions. Something about the system tends to beat you down after a while, and you realize that to have any voice at all, even to get reelected, you have to go along to get along. The lobbyists and our so-called leaders are necessary evils. It’s not unusual for lobbyists to write laws themselves and give marching orders to their bought-and-paid-for legislators. That’s why some observers of the Texas Legislature have taken to calling the section of the gallery where the lobbyists sit “the owners’ box.”

How do we get these career politicians and lobbyists out of the system? How can we effectively clean out the political stables? Unfortunately, the Crips and the Bloods, like bullies on a playground, are not going to help us achieve clean government. Their mind-set is almost entirely one of hanging on to power—whatever it takes. They care much more about getting themselves reelected than they do about helping the people of Texas. A political leader should be like a Wal-Mart greeter: The first thing out of his mouth should be “How can I help you?” Instead, the career politician enters a room full of people asking himself, “Who’s here who can help me?” Remember, it’s poly-ticks. (“Poly” means more than one; “ticks” are bloodsucking parasites.)

As the first person to get on the ballot in Texas as an independent candidate for governor in 123 years, I am in a rather unique position. I had to leap over every hurdle and jump through every hoop the system could dream of to block my progress. And this is not just a problem in Texas. The two parties do not want to share the American stage with anyone—they want it all to themselves. George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston were not only great independent thinkers and leaders but also enemies of the Crips and Bloods of their times. In more-recent years, the two-party monopoly did everything it could to destroy Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot. The only thing the two parties seem to agree on is that there should be no new parties, no new candidates or voters, and no new ideas.

Well, regardless of whether I run again, I have a few new ideas. Here are my suggestions for a political reform agenda in Texas.

Same-day voter registration. This will make it possible for people to register and vote on Election Day. States with SDVR enjoy voter turnout rates that are, on average, nearly 14 percent higher than states without it. Real democracy means getting more people into the process so that the true will of the people can be accurately measured and heard. SDVR has been shown, in particular, to increase the participation of young people. Jesse Ventura told me that he wouldn’t have won the governor’s race in Minnesota in 1998 without SDVR and the youth vote. This is not surprising; independent candidates often tend to attract younger and newer voters. But SDVR will also encourage participation by the many voters who do not become interested in the campaign until just weeks before an election, by which time, in Texas, registration rolls are closed. These people, whom my campaign manager, Dean Barkley, refers to not unkindly as “cave dwellers,” represent the majority of people in our state. Why would anyone want to keep young voters, new voters, and the majority of the citizens of our state away from the polls? Next time you meet up with the Crips or the Bloods, you might ask them what they’re so afraid of.

Mandatory voting. This sounds bad, but it really isn’t. Australia’s been doing it with great success for some time now. It works like this: Every citizen is required to show up at the polls and have his or her name checked off; if you don’t show up, you’re fined something nominal, like twenty bucks. In Australia, the turnout is often as high as 95 percent, and political corruption is much less of an issue than it is here. If we had mandatory voting in Texas, I’d be in the Governor’s Mansion right now with my five dogs, the Friedmans, and we’d all be smoking Cuban cigars around the poker table.

Fair ballot access. Texas is one of the most difficult states for an independent candidate or a new party to get on the ballot. What are the other states? I don’t know. The peasant with the withered arm wouldn’t tell me. Maybe you can Google it when you get home. The point is that petition requirements in Texas are outdated and impractical, and the powers that be like it that way. I had to collect more

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