Houston Chronicle. Sept. 16, 2014.
Textbooks, again: Until November, when the state Board of Education takes its final vote, weigh in
Here's a familiar headline: "Fight brews over social studies textbooks." It's that time again, when our fractious State Board of Education reviews and adopts textbooks for our 4.7 million public schoolchildren. It's a high-stakes undertaking, since Texas, with the second-largest public-school population in the country, wields considerable influence over other states' textbook selections.
The last time the board adopted new social studies materials was in 2002, and it was messy, with conservative members demanding multiple changes, resisting the portrayal of slavery as the major cause of the Civil War and demanding that creationism be taught along with evolution.
And it got worse: By May 2009, with the conservative wing of the 15-member board firmly in the driver's seat, the Chronicle reported that a livid Leticia Van de Putte, Democratic state senator from San Antonio, told the U.S. Senate that the board, whose chair, a dentist, believed the Earth to be about 6,000 years old, had become "the laughing stock of the nation."
In March, 2010, after raucous debate, the board approved (in a strictly partisan vote, 10 Republicans over five Democrats) a social studies curriculum that led the New York Times to comment, ". rarely in recent history has a group of conservative board members left such a mark on a social studies curriculum."
In an essay on the Chronicle op-ed page, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Foundation, a nonpartisan education and religious freedoms watchdog organization, wrote that those 2010 standards presented a "fundamental problem this time around" because the new textbooks to be adopted this year must be based on those same "deeply flawed" standards.
We agree with Miller that this is indeed a fundamental problem: But the greater problem is that we elect these board members with no guarantees of knowledge or experience in the education field. Consequently, many see it as a stepping-stone to a higher office, or a platform for their ideological or political preferences.
But, as Miller pointed out, there are a few bright spots: Some of the most radical board members have been replaced in the past few years; more educators are on the review panels, and new rules were adopted in January to improve transparency and boost the input of scholars and educators. And an independent review by respected scholars is in the works.
You, too, can be part of this vitally important process: Until November, when the final vote will be taken, the public is invited to offer its comments by e-mail at email@example.com.
These are all modest gestures, but they're the best we can do until we finally decide that our children, our investment in the future, should not be left in the hands of elected officials with their own agendas.
San Antonio Express-News. Sept. 12, 2014.
On voter ID, same tired arguments
Texas, in federal court, says it enacted voter ID to instill public confidence in the integrity of the ballot.
Texas actually has a quite different — and more damaging — problem. The state can have no genuine confidence that many Texans will turn out to vote at all.
So, you might think that making it easier to vote would be viewed as having value. Voter ID is the opposite of this and just more proof that the legislative majority is not really interested in solutions, only in obstacles.
In addition to voter ID, the state Legislature has made it more difficult for groups to do voter registration drives.
And this is on top of redistricting that dampens chances for minorities to elect representatives of their choosing even when they do vote. Texas redistricting is also being challenged in federal court.
One expert in the current legal challenge to the state's voter ID law says there are 787,000 Texans registered to vote who lack the identification required by the law to now actually do so.
The state disputes the figure, but the federal court now hearing the case should find the state's arguments generally no more compelling than a previous federal court did in 2012 when it blocked Texas from putting voter ID into effect.
"It imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities in Texas," Circuit Court Judge David Tatel wrote in the opinion.
This case is back because the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the portion of the Voting Rights Act that set the formula for which states were required to seek preclearance of changes to voting laws. Texas, with a sordid history of voter discrimination, was among these.
The state says, on the one hand, that it need not provide evidence of voter fraud for the court to uphold voter ID. On the other, it alleges "multiple" instances of in-person voter fraud.
But the specific figure it does provide — 11 cases in 2011 — is so minute as to be laughable. And other studies nationwide say instances of in-person voter fraud are rare. Eleven registers as a fraction of 1 percent of the 690,000 votes cast in 2011.
It's clear why the state wants it both ways — not having to prove voter fraud but insisting it exists.
In the 2012 legal challenge, the state also argued the law was needed to protect the integrity of the ballot. But of more than 13 million ballots cast in Texas in the 2008 and 2010 general elections, there were just four allegations of illegal voting and only one indictment.
The real problem is lack of voting.
Those 690,000 votes cast in 2011 amounted to 5.37 percent of the state's 12.8 million registered voters. The primary election this year saw 5.53 percent of the state's 13.6 million registered voters cast a ballot. And there were 5.3 million more Texans of voting age who didn't register.
The path to voting in Texas should be smoothed, not blocked.
Texas' arguments didn't hold water the last time voter ID was in federal court. The facts haven't changed, but the landscape has.
Because of that U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs must prove discriminatory intent — an allegedly higher hurdle.
But U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who is hearing the current case, should see right through that. When effect is so utterly predictable, intent is not difficult to discern at all.
Speaking of intent: Student IDs are not accepted under the state's voter ID law. The youth vote went overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2012.
An ID accepted for voting purposes now in Texas? A concealed handgun license.
A 2011 Gallup poll revealed that gun owners are more likely to be Republican or Republican leaning than Democrat.
The state also argues that providing Election Identification Certificates for free — and discounting the price of birth certificates to get this ID — means it has removed obstacles. It also says the elections occurring since voter ID took effect have been problem free.
Not really. Fewer than 300 EICs have been issued.
The Brownsville Herald. Sept. 14, 2014.
Tongues are wagging a-plenty on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The latest volley came our way courtesy of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. In a newspaper interview published Friday, Pena said Texas Gov. Rick Perry's deployment of National Guard troops to the border is "unpleasant" and "reprehensible," and could damage U.S.-Mexico relations.
Some cynics might ask: What relations? Perry, whose early terms were marked by a pragmatic approach to border affairs and even opposition to the costly but ineffective border fence, has used our southern neighbors as whipping posts since his disastrous 2012 run for the Republican presidential nomination. President Obama, despite pre-election pledges to do right by Hispanics including those with Mexican roots, has paid little attention to the country other than to raise deportations to unprecedented levels, even as the recession had slowed the immigration rate.