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Defending Heflin, discussing Vo

Rick Casey keeps on the Talmadge Heflin beat by taking a look at Heflin’s opponent, Hubert Vo.

Candidate Hubert Vo, who has been active in the community and is on the Super Neighborhood Council, is smarter than the state party chairman.

He is making no statements on Heflin’s ability to get a judge to send a constable to take the baby away from its mother or his spectacularly clumsy argument on the stand that “we all know the terrible problem that black male children have growing up into manhood without being in prison.”

Nor did Vo take the campaign slogan suggestion of one volunteer: “Vote for Vo: He won’t steal your baby.”

Vo knows the media have already alerted voters to the Heflin baby controversy. He is sticking to issues that could play well in a district that looks nothing like the population that first elected Heflin 22 years ago. District 149 is mostly in Alief and stretches up above Westheimer to Memorial west of Dairy Ashford. What used to be a standard American suburb is now suburbia Houston-style.

The 2000 census put it at 36 percent white, 21 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black, 18 percent Asian and 5 percent other.

Among the minorities, Vo, who speaks Spanish as well as Vietnamese, expects Heflin to be hurt by his record of using his appropriations chairmanship to cut state school funding and children’s health insurance. In addition, Vo is playing up Heflin’s proposal of raising sales taxes and expanding them to such things as car repairs.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray estimates the district’s 71,300 registered voters trend to 52 percent Democrat. But fewer of the lower-income voters counted as Democrats make it to the polls.

Two years ago, Heflin beat a poorly funded opponent 56 percent-44 percent. But turnout was only 34 percent in that nonpresidential election, giving Heflin a margin of just 2,600 votes.

What’s more, Gov. Rick Perry is believed to have turned out his vote effectively, while Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez didn’t.

A normal presidential-year turnout could be 50 percent higher, and most of those additional voters would likely vote Democrat.

Vo is running a well-funded, professionally staffed campaign. He expects to spend $300,000, and he has been personally knocking on doors since the beginning of June.

The conventional wisdom among the pros is that Heflin will win, though not by much. But then, the conventional wisdom was that Bill White wouldn’t make a mayoral runoff.

Of course, we covered quite a bit of that ground on Texas Tuesdays before the Heflin custody case made the news. Nice to see it get a wider dispersal, though.

Meanwhile, Heflin’s minister presents a fairly strong defense for him on yesterday’s op-ed page.

What would you have done if you had been in the shoes of state Rep. Talmadge Heflin and his wife, Janice?

A single pregnant woman you barely know comes to you asking for help.

Most of us would have simply told the woman that we could not get involved, but not the Heflins. Instead, they offered to support the mother and her child.

The baby was born prematurely and had health problems. The mother had no place to stay, so the Heflins gave her one.

Would you have done the same?

The mother took a job, leaving the child with the Heflins, and for over a year, she rarely spent any time with the baby.

The Heflins did.

Would you have made the same sacrifices to care for this baby?

What would you do when you tried to take that baby in for medical care, the mother nowhere to be found, and the doctor tells you he cannot administer care without a parental signature?

What if you then came to find out that this was not the mother’s first child to be raised by others?

In fact, and to your shock, you find out from police affidavits, while the mother is being investigated for fraud by Houston police in 2003, that she has five children — one left behind in Europe, three in Africa and now one in the United States.

How would you react to that?

I think the Heflins acted in what they thought was the best interest of the child, and if what is said here is true, their actions were honorable. That said, the dismissal of their lawsuit and the remaining questions of how they got custody in the first place still speak for themselves. However honorable and well-intentioned they may have been, they overstepped their bounds. And yes, Talmadge Heflin’s statement about black children and jail, at best an awkward phrasing, still casts doubt on their motivations. Sooner of later, Talmadge Heflin and not his lawyer or his minister, is going to have to explain himself more fully.

Politicians today are easy targets, but Talmadge has an honorable record in his public and his private life.

Talmadge helped add 356 Texas Child Protective Services caseworkers during the last session of the Legislature.

Heflin added $1.9 billion to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), even in a year in which Texas already had a $10 billion deficit. And, he did it all without raising taxes.

Thanks to his work, there are now 110,000 more needy young Texans a month who receive medical care. Make that 110,001 counting Fidel Jr.

To say the least, these figures are debatable. How they square with 147,000 children dropped from CHIP’s rolls, I couldn’t say. But at least here we’re on ground that I think we can all agree is fair game for vigorous debate, which brings us back to Hubert Vo. Let these two have it out, and may the best man win.

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One Comment

  1. Marty Jackson says:

    State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) wrote the following letter to respond to Pastor:

    (the source for the budget numbers: )

    In response to Pastor: The Heflins did right by baby Fidel Jr. 8/28/2004

    In his attempt to justify Rep. Heflin’s callous actions as House Appropriations chair, Rev. Pack makes a glaring error. Heflin did not add $1.9 billion to the CHIP program as Pack wrote. Instead he cut more than $700 million in combined state and federal funds out of the program. In fact, the entire state cost of the CHIP program is less than $1.9 billion!

    The truth is that Heflin’s budget is projected to cut approximately 169,000 children off CHIP (150,000 have already fallen off) and drastically slow the rate of growth for Children’s Medicaid. Last week’s Census estimates confirm that Texas still leads the nation in uninsured people and that the number is only growing.

    While I am moved by Heflin’s affection for his former housekeepers’ child, I only wish that he would show the same generosity to all the children of Texas by restoring devastating cuts to CHIP and other vital programs.