Supreme Court Justice, Nathan HechtIt’s the one public policy problem the legislature would not solve – the Robin Hood system of public school finance. No one could broker consensus among lawmakers on this issue. Not George W. Bush. Not Rick Perry. Not Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Not Carole Keeton Strayhorn. Not countless special committees. Not the press. And certainly not the educator lobby.
Only a Texas Supreme Court order and an impending school shutdown could force the legislature to act.
That’s why Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht deserves Man of the Year honors. He wrote the opinion that will force the legislature to redo school finance.
Equally important, however, is how Hecht came to the conclusion the school finance system did not pass constitutional muster. The educator lobby wanted the court to order the legislature to fork over billions of tax dollars ($11 billion or so) to public school bureaucrats. It’s a legal concept often called "adequacy."
But in Hecht’s ruling he cautioned "While the end-product of public education is related to the resources available for its use, the relationship is neither simple nor direct; public education can and often does improve with greater resources, just as it struggles when resources are withheld, but more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students." He ordered the legislature to fix a broken system by declaring Robin Hood a statewide property tax but did not hand a blank check to school districts in the process.
The Texas Supreme Court has experienced substantial turnover in the past few years. Hecht is now the court’s longest-serving member, first elected in 1988. In his time on the bench, he has established himself as a voice for conservative values and judicial restraint. Because of Hecht’s tenure and record, he speaks with degree of stature that few Texas jurists can match.
Texas government in 2005 was characterized by inaction. Hecht took action, making him the obvious choice for Man of the Year.
The Katrina disaster was not only the news story of the year for me but the disaster and the political ramifications of its aftermath makes this story the most significant story regarding race relations in America since the 60's. At a time when many thought our racial woes were behind us, the sight of African-Americans stranded homeless in a ruined city that is majority Black and the fact that many felt race as much as Mother Nature contributed to the magnitude of the disaster showed the world that America has a lot more work to do to insure that all of our citizens are treated equally.
Harriet MiersIn 2005, one woman took an action that could have positive ramifications on this country for decades. That woman was Harriet Miers, who asked the President to withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court last October. In my book, she is easily the best candidate for woman of the year.
As readers of this blog will know, I was no fan of the Miers nomination, but I do not offer my choice as some kind of back-handed compliment. Her actions last October demonstrated selflessness, graciousness, and dignity. Pure and simple.
Once nominated, Miers could have forced the issue all the way through to a Senate vote. She could have tenaciously clung to the opportunity to be a Supreme Court Justice, even as the poll numbers for the President plummeted. Most people in her position would have put their own ambition and self-interest first, regardless of the ramifications on others. Miers did not do that. Instead, she sacrificed her own interests for the good of the country. Few people would be so decent and noble.
Miers soon did the country another good turn. Within hours of resigning, she put personal considerations aside, for a second time, and she helped the President to select her replacement. Next week, the Senate will hold hearings for this second, eminently qualified Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito.
Finally, to top it all off, Miers took an action that few will know about, but which I witnessed. In mid-November, I attended a dinner in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Federalist Society. The event was packed with hundreds of conservative lawyers who had opposed the Miers nomination. Harriet Miers walked into this lion's den, and she stayed for the duration of the dinner. She was resolute, gracious, and dignified. Few at the dinner left doubting that Miers is a classy lady who puts her country and her President first.
The world would be a better place if more people were to behave in the selfless fashion that Miers did this year.
POPE BENEDICT XVI … They said he was too old. They said that he was too controversial and that he made too many enemies to get the 2/3 votes necessary to be elected. They said he was following in the footsteps of an icon of the 20th century and that he was bound to suffer in any comparison with his predecessor.
Nonetheless, on the fourth ballot, the College of Cardinals overwhelmingly voted to select Cardinal Ratzinger as the successor to Pope John Paul VI. The new Pope chose the name of Benedict XVI.
In less than a year, the 78 year old pontiff has proven himself to be a worthy successor to the Polish Pope who is credited by many for helping to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Empire. While he was the Pope’s right hand man as the head of the Congregation of the Faith, Benedict XVI is his own man when it comes to his approach to dealing with the problems facing the Catholic Church and the World in the first decade of the 21st century. Internally, the new Pontiff is moving slowly, but firmly, to correct and rein in the abuses and excesses which plagued the Catholic Church – particularly the Church in the United States – during the last decades of the 20th century. His appointment of a battle-hardened veteran diplomat to the Middle East, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to become the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United States suggests that major changes will be forthcoming in the Catholic hierarchy here in America.
What led me, however, to select Benedict XVI as man of the year is not the internal changes he is making (and will continue to make) in the administrative operations of the Catholic Church.
He is my man of the year because I believe that Benedict XVI has a clearer understanding of the threat posed by militant Islam (and how best to combat it) than our own policymakers in Washington, DC. Benedict XVI understands that Western Europe – once the cradle of Christian civilization – is in danger of committing demographic suicide, given a secularized culture that has little room for God or religious values. Benedict XVI refers to that dominant secular culture of Europe as having fallen prey to "the dictatorship of relativism", and he seeks to encourage Europeans to re-discover their Christian roots and stem the demographic tide of Islam.
At the same time, the new Pope is taking a tougher line than his predecessor in confronting a growing Islamic militancy. He is reaching out to eastern Orthodox leaders in Russia, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, and elsewhere who have a common interest in preserving what is left of Christianity in Europe and resisting the Islamization of Europe. Benedict XVI also has opened lines of communications with traditional Anglicans and Evangelicals in Europe who share common ground with him on many issues. Europe is pivotal in the historical conflict between Christianity and Islam which once again is rearing its ugly head in the 21st century. Benedict XVI is signaling that only a re-Christianized Europe is capable of responding to the challenge of a resurgent, militant brand of Islam determined to impose its religious ideology on peoples and nations of the world. This may seem like an impossible quest, but then so did the idea of the collapse of the Soviet Empire sound in the early 1980s when a Polish Pope and a Hollywood actor turned President set about making that vision become a reality.
Earle derailed a runaway train deliberately aimed at what is now the softest but always largest pillar of our democracy—"We, the People."
Things have not been and will not be the same since Earle dropped "The Hammer"—the Texas gasbag-of-a-congressman who once proclaimed, "I am the federal government."
It doesn’t matter if Tom DeLay is convicted on the money laundering charges properly preferred against him and his confederates by the Travis County prosecutor. Earle nevertheless has shined the light on the "Republican Culture of Corruption," a phrase that is no longer partisan poli-speak, but an apt description of the status quo in Republican Washington and here at home.
Earle single-handedly gave legitimacy, inspiration, incentive and backbone to those who are now about to topple the Jack Abramoffs, Bill Frists, Ralph Reeds, and the rest of the chief thieves and frauds of the so-called "conservative" movement of our new century—those who have no concept of the public trust and fiduciary responsibility, but who instead view our government as a means to self-fulfillment and personal enrichment. At the very least, by indicting DeLay and dragging him into the halls of justice, Earle took out their best and smelliest political defenseman. And Earle played by the rules when he did it.
Should DeLay win his legal battles and be restored to his House leadership position by the likes of Dennis Hastert—something George Bush said he desires, but which many Republicans dread like a hemorrhoidectomy—then that, too, is a result we can probably live with, for DeLay and his ilk will forever be the neutered poster children for the crippled and illegitimate agenda they represent. Dick Cheney can show up at as many DeLay fundraisers as his heart allows, and it will do DeLay no good.
Ronnie Earle is the Man of the Year 2005, not just for Texas but for all of this nation. For Scotland’s St. Andrews and the Mariana Islands, too.
Meanwhile, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation proceeds, with still-unresolved questions about Karl Rove. Perhaps another prosecutor for Man of the Year in 2006?
If Ronnie Earle is the Best of 2005, who are the worst? That’s simple: Everyone mentioned here except for the prosecutors.
Ken Molberg is the former Democratic Chairman of Dallas County and longtime Texas Democratic Party leader. He also is an attorney who specializes in employment law and is president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association