May 26, 2004
Free bikes

Say what you will about the Harris County GOP, they've got a lot of money and they're not afraid to spend it.

The Harris County Republican Party took a marketing strategy successfully used by Coca-Cola and Nike to the East End on Tuesday in hopes of building inroads with Houston's Hispanic voters.

Local GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill and two Hispanic Republican judges handed out about 246 bicycles to students of J.R. Harris Elementary School.

The bicycles were awarded to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who passed all portions of this year's Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

"We hope this will encourage them to study hard and improve themselves," Woodfill said. "Of course, we would also like to see them vote Republican when the time comes."

That the Republican Party chose J.R. Harris is no coincidence. Both major parties are wooing the growing Hispanic population, and J.R. Harris is in the middle of one of the city's most heavily Hispanic neighborhoods.

Many residents are first- and second-generation immigrants who have not built the same party allegiance that often passes down from parent to child in white, black and longer-established Hispanic families.


J.R. Harris Principal Jaime Casteñeda said whatever the political implications may be, the reward spurred students to work harder with hopes of getting one of the free bicycles. Many prepared for the test after regular classes and on Saturdays.

"These kids work hard all year," Casteñeda said, "but the bikes made them work harder."

He said 78.4 percent of the 301 students who took the TAKS passed all portions.

That is a remarkable achievement, he said, since two-thirds of students who start kindergarten at the school speak only Spanish. By the time they reach fifth grade, all students take TAKS and other standardized tests only in English.

The school's population is 96 percent Hispanic, and three of every four students is considered at-risk to fail or drop out. Ninety-eight percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals.

Woodfill said he expects to expand the program, called "Christmas in May," to five other schools in minority neighborhoods that historically have voted Democratic. The party worked out a deal with Wal-Mart to get the bicycles awarded this year for $30 each.

Later this year, the party plans to open a second headquarters in a Hispanic neighborhood.

What can I say? It's a brilliant idea, a modern twist on the old Tammany Hall playbook. Will it get a few more people to vote GOP? Probably. Your move, Democrats.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 26, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack

Hey, why not offer bikes for passing a test? If professional sports teams can offer free tickets for attendance in school or getting high grades, and people can offer to sponsor a high school graduate's college education, then this is not a bad thing at all. Of course, if the Democratic party did this, the Republicans would call it a waste of taxpayer money.

Tammany Hall was just a wee bit more corrupt than this, but the idea sounds more than a little familiar.

Posted by: William Hughes on May 26, 2004 8:00 AM

Lonely and slightly confused Right Winger seeks intelligent but gentle Left Winger for meaningful discussion of today’s issues. Show me the error of my ways, PLEASE.

Posted by: Adrian Spidle on May 26, 2004 9:38 AM

Let me get this straight. It's against the law for a party to pay or otherwise materially compensate a voter for his or her vote. But that same party can give a voter's kid a bike? Give me a break!

I do not believe this is worth prosecuting, or pursuing at all. But it is indicative of a mindset, and I do believe it is a heads-up that the GOP intends to bribe its way to victories in minority communities that it could not achieve in other ways. If recent poll numbers for Hispanic voters on Donkey Rising are any indication, the GOPers have a lot of bribes to go before they make any headway.

IMHO, Democrats should not pursue this approach. Not only is it of questionable legality, but it is yet another context in which the GOP can always, always outspend us. Even when the GOP gets "creative," the creativity somehow always involves creative spending.

An aside, but an important aside: the GOP pushes the notion that educational success can be measured by the TAKS. I know many educators who think otherwise, and who see the very existence of high-stakes testing ("accountability," as the GOP would call it) as highly disruptive of the actual educational process. There have already been a number of mini-scandals involving cheating, not just by students, but by faculty and, yes, school administrators. When a really big scandal breaks, as it inevitably will, I'd like to see high-stakes testing associated with the GOP in the minds of the public.

Posted by: Steve Bates on May 26, 2004 11:23 AM

William, yes, it would be a waste of TAXPAYER MONEY because, as your mindset indicates, that's all uncreative liberals can come up with. This was all PRIVATE monies raised by the HCRP or donated by evil corporations. If liberals did something like this, the only ideas they have is for the government to pay for it. How about congratualting the HCRP for getting out there, raising the money, asking for donations, and rewarding these at-risk students for a job well done and puttung their money where their message is.

And Steve, help me out here, illegal? You are really going to go with the message that helping at-risk students who are passing the test they are asked to pass is somehow illegal? And your complaint of creative spending, see the above paragraph. The difference is Democrats only think of creative GOVERNMENT spending. Republicans, as this article shows, are using creative PRIVATE spending to reward some deserving students.

Posted by: RL on May 26, 2004 1:11 PM

It's hard to find a bicycle for children that age for less than a hundred dollars. Wal-Mart sold them to the Republican party for $30, so it was taking a hit. Is this a political contribution by a corporation? If so, is it legal?

Posted by: cdw on May 26, 2004 1:51 PM

"And Steve, help me out here, illegal? You are really going to go with the message that helping at-risk students who are passing the test they are asked to pass is somehow illegal?" - RL

RL, that's a typical Republican's misconstruction of what I actually said, but what else should I expect. This has nothing to do with students, and any honest person would admit that without prompting. If it's against the law to bribe a voter, then yes, it's surely against the law to give the equivalent bribe to his or her kid. Yeah, I think it's illegal. The GOP isn't a charity, let alone a church, and the same laws don't apply. Oh, wait, the GOP is practically a church for some people... d'ya think party members could get the religious tax exemption from Strayhorn's office? Hey, now that would be "creative"!

As to the message I'll go with, how about this: where the (Nixonian expletive deleted) was the GOP when the CHIP health insurance program for kids was effectively demolished? Where was the GOP when the much ballyhooed No Child Left Behind program just happened not to have been fully funded by BushCo™? Well, where were they? You know, and I know: they were tending to their wealthy cronies, not to poor kids. And now the Harris County GOP comes along and bribes kids a few months before an election. I'm supposed to be impressed with that?

Democrats only think of creative GOVERNMENT spending. Republicans, as this article shows, are using creative PRIVATE spending to reward some deserving students.

Got a problem with your caps lock key?

Excuse me for pointing out that money from the GOP is by no stretch of any reasoning person's imagination private, ah, I mean, PRIVATE, funding. If the GOP is being operated as a charity, its contributors are being screwed, bigtime, as Dick might say. If it's not, then my question about the possible interpretation of free bikes as paying for votes is legitimate.

Posted by: Steve Bates on May 26, 2004 7:53 PM