What Goes Around, Comes Around

What Goes Around, Comes Around

t was easy to appreciate the cyclical nature of Texas politics—and even find some hope—sharing a window ledge seat in the House chamber with Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) on the night of June 28th, a week into the Lege’s special session on school finance. The House had entered its 12th hour of debate on an education package. After this go-around, legislators will have attempted to fix school finance three times in little more than a year; twice since September 2004 when District Judge John Dietz ruled that the Lege had failed the children of Texas. The Republicans who seized power in 2002 are struggling with an obligation put into place only a few years after they last ran Texas, more than a century ago. In 1875, state constitutional convention delegates passed the following: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of free public schools.” McReynolds, a former history professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, is well placed to savor the irony. “I’ll rein in the corporate greed,” he paraphrases Governor Jim Hogg, pointing to the large portrait that hangs to the left of the speaker’s podium. “What we are doing tonight is a variation on a theme,” notes the rural East Texas Democrat. In 1836, Texas’ Declaration of Independence listed the lack of a public school system as one of the reasons for the revolt against the Mexican government. Subsequent governments took steps toward such a system but squandered the money and land set aside for it to corruption and greedy corporate interests. In 1873, a grassroots farmers’ organization called the Grange organized in Texas. Two years later, the Grangers and their allies would comprise half the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. The Grangers believed that every child had a natural right to a good education and that government’s job was to defend its citizenry from exploitation by economic elites. More than a century later the Gilded Age has returned. The people’s voice is but a whisper in the Texas Legislature, drowned out by powerful economic interests and a radical ideology that believes public education is from the pit of hell. Republican moderates, well placed to solve the school finance problem, are shut out of the debate. During the regular session, Rep. Bob Griggs (R-North Richland Hills), a former school superintendent, spoke passionately in favor of adequately and equitably funding public education. This time, he isn’t even recognized to ask a question of the bill’s author. “Griggs just called it like it was and pissed them off,” says McReynolds. Now, rumor has it, Griggs won’t be running for reelection. (He says he’ll decide in September.) Regardless of what happens this special session, the current leadership has proven itself hostile to fulfilling its constitutional obligation. But then, it might not be necessary. The state Supreme Court begins oral arguments on July 6 in the appeal of Judge Dietz’s ruling, and Governor Rick Perry, who is one pick away from having appointed a majority of the court, has said publicly that the Supremes won’t uphold it. Gov. Hogg knew how this story plays out. That’s why, after leaving office, he successfully campaigned for a prohibition to keep corporate money out of state politics. Today, a century later, there is overwhelming evidence that the GOP machine and its corporate funders violated that prohibition to obtain power in 2002. Where is the next Grange? The next Hogg? “We are in a cycle right now,” says McReynolds, the historian. “Will it come back around? Sure, it will. The American people have a built-in gyroscope.” —JB

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Published at 12:00 am CST