Florida's Chief Justice, Barbara J. ParienteGet this: There’s a new principle in American education, namely, that public schools are to be "uniformly" bad. Such is the rockbottom meaning of that 5-2 Florida Supreme Court decision last week scuttling a public school voucher program.
You needn’t sift for long the legal gobbledegook to figure out that the Florida decision cuts aspiring students off at the knees and rewards substandard performance by their teachers and administrators.
Florida’s constitution requires that "free public schools" be, among other things, "uniform." Which by public consensus many surely are -- uniformly bad. Which is why the state created a voucher program in the first place --- so that victims of such oppressive uniformity could opt either for public schools or private ones, with the state paying the bill.
Under the program, 730 such students are being educated in private schools. The idea is, we’ll drag ‘em back to the dungeons next fall. Why (according to the court’s reasoning) should these brats, trying to claw their way out of ignorance, be allowed to undermine the Florida public school system’s proud reputation for, ah, insufficiency? A vast, thundering irony here is that the constitution, besides requiring uniformity in education, mandates schools of "high quality"!
A basic question here: What’s the purpose of public schools? Developing and sharpening the intellectual faculties, one would suppose. From which it should follow that those who pay for the schools, i.e., taxpayers, should constantly goad the schools to higher levels of performance. I mean, am I wrong? High performance ITAL doesn’t ITAL count? Tells against you, in fact, in constitutional terms?
Florida’s chief justice, Barbara J. Pariente, objects, in the majority opinion, that private schools aren’t "uniform" with the public schools, partly because, being private, they don’t have to follow state standards. Why, they don’t even have to teach "the History of the Holocaust or the story of Hispanics’ and women’s contributions to the United States." Imagine it if you can --- schools of "high quality" emerging in such an intellectually deprived environment!
. More to the point, shouldn’t one count as an unalloyed blessing the absence of public school standards in private schools? If the public schools’ standards were as high the privates’, demand for vouchers would figure on the merest handful of political wish lists.
It was of course those partly -- at the very least -- responsible for the present debased state of public education who set out to sink Florida’s voucher system. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers stand, as ever, in the way of reform and progress. If the schools are bad, still they provide jobs, and the jobs provide dues money for the unions, and so on. Seeing a handful of Florida parents attack vouchers in court, the unions joined in with gusto, along with the usual leftwing suspects, notably the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The NAACP’s participation in the attack on vouchers should particularly enrage us. We’re going to advance "colored people" how? We’re going to stick them in inferior schools and make sure they stay there -- apparently that’s how. Did I mention that the denizens of Florida’s failing schools are mostly black? A mere detail, such as the NAACP chooses not to bother with, in part no doubt because the teacher unions are reliable allies in the liberals’ ongoing war against Bush-ism and what not. Speaking of that particular war, it’s well to note the reemergence of the Florida Supreme Court -- last heard from during the 2000 election ruckus -- as a factor in national debate. The U. S. Supreme Court, you’ll recall, took on the election contest away from the Florida court, amid some national clamor. The voucher decision doesn’t prove the Florida justices were wrong in their analysis of how the votes should be counted. It doe
s raise a serious question: Would it have been better had we let a court as purblind as Florida’s choose the president of the whole, entire United States?
The President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, is “outraged.” So, for that matter, are all Mexican politicians along with most central American politicians and more than a few from Brazil. They are right to be outraged. The fact that millions of their people are risking their lives to flee their Mexican (and other Latin) homeland to seek economic refuge in the United States indicates a failure of the Mexican state so complete that every Mexican should be outraged.
Unfortunately, President Fox et al are outraged because the United States Congress has suddenly decided to take some action to stop the flow of Mexicans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans and even Brazilians into the US. They are outraged the US would dare suggest individuals entering the US illegally should be considered criminals. They are outraged the US is planning to build 700 miles of what they call “moral equivalents to the Berlin Wall.” At least that is what they claim.
What they are really outraged about is that they may not be able to export their hardest working most enterprising citizens who are of course the people most likely to rise in revolt one day. They are outraged their expatriates might stop sending home billions of gringo dollars to prop up their corrupt and inefficient governments. They are outraged that millions of poor Mexicans might have to look to their own country for jobs and succor instead of the Norte Americano. They are also doubtless outraged they have to look stupid comparing walls intended to keep people out with a wall where people were daily shot to keep people in.
Let them choke on their outrage.
But before the Norte Americanos begin to organize a mass roundup of illegal immigrants they would do well to see the movie “A Day without a Mexican.” Ever wonder what the US would be if Latinos vanished? It isn’t pretty. The fact is that Mexico’s loss is largely America’s gain. Like the English, Scots-Irish, Germans, Italians, Irish, Lebanese, Jews and dozens of other willing immigrants (blacks weren’t “willing”) these are people who have come to work and who fill niches in our economy that insufficient numbers of US Citizens are willing to fill.
This isn’t about cheap labor. It is about any labor for dozens industries, including domestic help for individual families. There is every reason to believe the new immigrants are following in the footsteps of their predecessors: learn English, work hard, and build better lives for themselves and their families.
True, immigrants come at a cost disproportionately felt in different areas. Immigrants place a burden on social services in areas where they are most concentrated. Living largely outside the law they live outside mainstream society and are ready victims of crime – and therefore attract criminals. This calls for government action to provide relief for local taxpayers carrying undue burdens and a government program to provide immigrants a legal avenue to participate in the US economy. There is a mutual need that is overwhelming and the failure of the Congress to address it is indeed outrageous.
But as Teddy Roosevelt once said it is not the value of immigrant labor that counts but the capacity for citizenship. The failure of the Mexican State might well give pause. But every single other immigrant group came here because their homelands failed them too. Once freed of the old they prospered within a few generations in the new. The Mexicans will be no different.
But none of this argues against a wall. If millions of hardworking God fearing people can make it across the border illegally so can a handful of terrorists and drug dealers. The Norte Americano has every right and reason to control their border and if walls do the trick let the officials of the Latin South hang their collective heads in shame that their people are fleeing them and must be stopped by walls. The Norte Americano also has every reason to control the total number of people entering their country. The nation can only absorb so many people in any given period of time. The number of immigrants must be determined by our needs not those of foreign politicians or domestic immigration lawyers hungry for clients.
John Sharp"Don’t tax you. Don’t tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree" was an expression coined by the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana who was the longtime Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. It is an apt expression as Gov. Perry’s tax reform commission conducts public hearings all across Texas and hears recommendations on various solutions to the school finance issue which must be resolved by a June 1st deadline set by the Texas Supreme Court. It is expected that Gov. Perry will call another special session sometime in April to address this issue once the party primaries and run offs are completed.
Conventional wisdom has it hat the legislature will come up with a patchwork, short-term solution to the Robin Hood scheme of excessive reliance on property taxes which has been declared unconstitutional by the Texas Supreme Court. But, this may be a real opportunity for the legislature, Speaker, Lt. Governor, and Governor to "bite the bullet" and fix the problem for the foreseeable future by putting in place a broad-based, low rate tax that would be far more equitable than the current Robin Hood system.
The two plans that best meet those goals are David Hartman’s business activities tax and Albert Huddleston’s flat-rate income tax. As regular readers of DallasBlog know, I favor Hartman’s BAT while Scott Bennett supports the Huddleston approach. Both plans would rid us of Robin Hood and share many similarities, particularly when it comes to making sure that reform of the current system is part and parcel of any change in the way we finance elementary and secondary education in Texas.
It is not right that 15 in every 16 businesses in Texas avoid the state’s main business tax (the franchise tax) because of loopholes in the law. John Sharp, the Chairman of Perry’s Tax Commission makes a good point when he states: "There are going to be some people that are going to hold out until the end, that think that the good Lord put ‘em here not to pay taxes. But, most of the business community knows that that’s not a situation that can work."
Rick Perry deserves a lot of credit for burying the hatchet with his former opponent John Sharp and appointing his fellow Aggie Classmate to chair this Commission. Now, if the Lt. Governor will get over his grudge against Sharp – who also ran for Lt. Governor against David Dewhurst – and work with Sharp instead of going off in a different direction with his separately appointed Senate Committee to study the issue, then this could be a real opportunity to rid ourselves of Robin Hood and establish a much fairer system of funding public education in our state. I’m betting that John Sharp is just the man to get that done. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sharp's Commission doesn’t propose a solution along the lines of the business activities tax which has been developed by Austin businessman David Hartman. It is the kind of proposal that is fair to all and one that could win bi-partisan support from a majority of legislators if the Sharp Commission were to recommend its adoption.
Pappy O'Daniel and the Hillbilly BoysSo here’s Rick Perry preparing to defend the Governor’s Mansion not just against some theoretical Democrat but also against Carole ("One Tough Grandma") Strayhorn, running as an independent, if you please, with Kinky Friedman threatening to upstage the lot of them – I didn’t say beat ‘em, I said upstage ‘em – and one logical conclusion would be that, if nothing else this fall, the electorate will be empowered to think about matters other than Iraq, Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, and whether Dallas or Waco gets the Bush library.
Politics, once the preferred form of indoor/outdoor spectacle for Texans, next to high school football, may recover some of its lost cachet. Which would take some recovering inasmuch as the grim partisan wars of the past few decades have drained local enthusiasm for the kind of entertainment the electorate once drank in: Allan Shivers vs. Ralph Yarborough, LBJ vs. Coke Stevenson vs. George Parr vs. the Texas Rangers, the press vs. Preston Smith. We’ve never elected an independent as governor, but the sober Norsemen of Minnesota anointed Jesse Ventura, so even Perry has to crack the door to such a possibility.
Strayhorn and Friedman alike have, seemingly, the potential to let things get wild and crazy. The former disappears when standing behind a rain barrel, but you can hear her from 20 miles away. The latter is presently hawking what the Wall Street Journal’s John Fund this week described as "a 13-inch, cigar-wielding doll with Mr.Friedman’s features holding a news conference." Friedman – I think we might describe him as an entertainer – has hired Ventura’s advertising consultant.
Well, why not? When it comes to entertainment of one kind or another, the precedent stretches back at least to 1938. That was when Willard Lee O’Daniel, the Fort Worth flour company owner and radio host, with a hillbilly band and more sheer nerve than an Army mule, took on an entire field of seasoned candidates – and beat ‘em.
There was a Republican candidate, but no one back then cared. The major players were all Democrats – Atty. Gen. William McCraw, Railroad Commissioner Ernest O. Thompson, semi-perpetual candidate Tom Hunter – and Pappy O’Daniel (so-called due to his radio show lead-in: "Please pass the biscuits, Pappy!")The popular Pappy had asked listeners to write and tell him whether he should run for governor. As he told it, 54, 499 of them said yes; just four said no. Into the race he jumped on May 1, 1938. His platform: the Ten Commandments, no sales tax, and $30-a-month state pensions at age 65. His slogan: the Golden Rule. A complementary slogan soon followed: "Less Johnson grass and politicians; more smokestacks and businesmen."
Pappy took to the hustings with faith, his teenage children, and a hillbilly band. By June the crowds had discovered him. At Colorado City 3,000 waited three hours to see him. He pulled the biggest crowd Denton had seen in decades. The small-towners and country folk primarily lined up for him. Yet, in Austin, he drew perhaps 40,000.
There was no TV then. It was face-to-face contact in the middle of the hot summer, with moral exhortation, folk wisdom – and, maybe above all, hillbilly music, including a song of the candidate’s own composition – "O beautiful, beautiful Texas, where the beautiful bluebonnets grow/We’re proud of our forefathers, who fought at the Alamo...")
The music afforded what legend calls candidatorial cover. Asked how he was going to pay for such-and-such a program, so the story goes, Pappy would signal the band: "Play, Leon!" It likely never happened that way. Pappy’s glib-folksy tongue pulled him out of virtually all difficulties.
In the July primary Pappy ran first in 231 of Texas’ 254 counties. It was enough and more than enough. The historian Seth McKay would write: "He had no political organization of any kind, no campaign manager other than his wife, no newspaper support in the early weeks of the contest, and was totally lacking in political experience. The only possible conclusion is that O’Daniel’s victory in 1938 was due to his skill and long record in the use of the radio."
He won a second term as well, broke or bent various of his fiscal promises, ran a thoroughly conservative, businessman’s administration, and won election to the U. S. Senate in 1941, only to step down in 1948. Lyndon Johnson and Box 13, Jim Wells County, lay in Texas’, and America’s, future.
A semi-clown O’Daniel may have been; but he connected with the voters, not necessarily because they, too, were semi-clowns; it was likelier because they liked him. At least then they did. A quarter of a century later, Pappy essayed a comeback. His caravan with hillbilly band came to my hometown. Down at the courthouse I saw a sad reflection of the vital personality that had been W. Lee O’Daniel, back in a day before politics had been turned over to the consultants, the fundraisers, and the sound-bite writers. This time he lost by a mile. But while it lasted, it was – kind of, some of the time – fun.
Samuel AlitoIt’s hard to believe, but the big week is finally here. The confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito will begin today at noon EST. For years, many political commentators have predicted that this particular Senate hearing—the one discussing the replacement for swing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—will be an unprecedented showdown between the political left and right.
But what, exactly, is behind the furor?
To hear political commentators speak, all sides seem to be espousing the same idea: Good judges should neutrally apply the law to situations before them. Liberal Democratic politicians will say it, as will conservative Republicans. But each side will then identify different judges as their "ideal" candidate for the bench. "Neutrally apply the law" seems to mean something different to each side of the aisle. But what?
The difference is in judicial philosophy. Each side differs in their preferred method of interpreting the law.
Some judges exercise a philosophy of restraint. They are originalists. They seek to find and apply the original meaning of a text, believing that new textual meanings, when needed, should be added by elected legislators. They recognize that the Constitution has one meaning that does not change over time. They are likely to say that shifting political or cultural considerations should be reflected in the legislature, not in judicial opinions. These judges see themselves as the umpires of the legal arena, doing their bests to call balls and strikes within a pre-determined strike zone.
Other judges, by contrast, maintain a more activist judicial philosophy. These judges tend to speak of the Constitution as a "living" document with a meaning that changes over time. Such a statement is as ridiculous as believing that an umpire can unilaterally change the strike zone over the course of several games, months, or years. A formal rule change is needed before an umpire can start calling balls thrown at ankle height a "strike." In the same way, if and when an amendment to the Constitution or laws is needed, it is the job of lawmakers, not judges, to begin this process.
After all, legislators who misread the political tealeaves can be voted out of office. Judges cannot.
The President has chosen to nominate Alito because he believes that Alito will exercise a philosophy of restraint. All evidence indicates that his confidence in Alito is well-founded. Alito will do his best to apply a pre-existing strike zone to the situation before him. He will not create new strike zones as he perceives that the Constitution is "growing" or "changing" over time.
Such a situation is healthy for our country. Judges who exercise a philosophy of restraint allow the voters to govern themselves. By contrast, activist judges undermine the democratic principles in our Constitution, instead setting themselves up as the ultimate arbiters of what is good and bad, right or wrong.
When Senators argue about Alito’s fitness this week, remember that they are saying the same words, but with different meanings. Some Senators want judges who are restrained. Others like the world in which activist judges can use a "living" Constitution to deliver political results.