Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
With one unscripted remark, President George W. Bush revealed more about the state of politics in America today than a thousand editorials. By the time he uttered it, anyone with access to a television, a radio, or the Internet knew that in the wake of hurricane Katrina, Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and indeed his counterparts at all levels of government had, in fact, done an abysmal job of their most basic responsibility—safeguarding the citizenry. For those paying attention, particularly in Texas, the federal response should not have come as a surprise. In the Lone Star State, we’ve known for a while what happens when cronyism and ideology triumph over competence and common sense.
The Bush administration hopes that Brownie’s resignation will make us forget that, before managing national disasters, he was the commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association. Brownie’s principal qualification appears to have been that he was an old college chum of Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s chief of staff when he was governor and the campaign manager for the Bush-Cheney election effort in 2000. Allbaugh, who headed FEMA prior to Brown, shares an ideological contempt for government that marks the Bush administration. In congressional testimony, he once described FEMA as “an oversized entitlement program.” Today, Allbaugh trades on his connections to lobby for federal contracts. Treating government as a free-market till rather than a vehicle to expand the common good has led to tragedies large and small in recent years, but the administration may have met its match in Katrina.
Apparently, there are limits to how much reality one can defy. For the first time since 9/11, the media has rediscovered its essential role as a public watchdog and shows no immediate signs of relinquishing it. The aftermath of the storm appears to have roused Republican moderates from their quiescence. They can read polls too. The trifecta of Katrina, Iraq, and gas prices is turning the president’s image as toxic as the floodwaters of New Orleans.
In Texas, Bush-style governance has produced a man-made calamity. For three years, the state’s Republican leadership has struggled with the issue of school finance. Just about the only folks who don’t seem to accept that Texas schools desperately need more money are the ideologues in control of the state Capitol. Many of them, including the chairman of the education committee in the Texas House, appear to be hostile to the very idea of public education. The GOP leadership has consistently shut out those who can offer education expertise, even from within their own party. Meanwhile, rampant cronyism between GOP leaders and the state’s big business lobby has blocked a broad business tax to increase school funding. As the crisis in Texas education mounts, rumors abound that the governor is planning to call a fifth special session on school finance in October.
One Republican representative, who was shunted aside by the ideologues, recently issued a clarion call to fellow Texans. Rep. Bob Griggs (R-North Richland Hills), a former school superintendent, used his retirement announcement to urge educators to run for office, citing “misguided and damaging efforts to dismantle Texas’ educational system in the last year.” Griggs applauded groups “popping up all over the state to help elect representatives who will listen to parents, students, PTAs, and educators to improve education rather than point fingers and tear the system down.”
“It is my hope that a wave of statesmanship will overtake the legislature and move Texas into an era of prosperity and intelligent leadership that will benefit all Texans…particularly the children in our educational system.”
Let the rebuilding begin.