Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Bill Hobby

Republican former Senators defend anti-majoritarian practices

I appreciate the spirit in which this was offered, but it’s completely out of touch with reality.

The purpose of the 31-member Texas Senate is similar to that of the U.S. Senate: to cool down some of the fevered legislation filed in the Senate or passed by a simple majority of the Texas House of Representatives.

This is accomplished by a Senate rule that requires a super-majority vote (60% of senators on the floor at this time) to bring up a bill for debate. This rule was enacted in 2015; for 70 years previously, a larger, two-thirds vote was required (21 votes of those present).

It’s no coincidence that the 2015 rule change mirrored the Senate’s partisan balance. It allowed Republicans, who held 20 seats, to bring up and pass a bill without any Democrat support. Now — with the possibility that Democrats may gain Senate seats in the general election — the idea has been raised to further lower the threshold during the 2021 legislative session to require only a simple majority vote.

As former Republican senators — with a total of 80 years of service in this wonderful, deliberative body — we oppose this possible change. Requiring only a simple majority would be bad for the Texas Senate, the Texas Legislature, and the State of Texas.

[…]

A stronger rule encourages, even forces, senators to work with colleagues across the political aisle. In our experience, working in a bipartisan manner led to better legislation and made the Texas Senate a more collegial body.

It also ensures legislators from rural and urban areas work together. In our heavily urban state, rural areas could be more easily outvoted under a rule change. In fact, some senators believe this issue is more about the urban/rural split than a partisan one.

Democrat and Republican Lt. Govs. Bill Hobby, Bob Bullock, Rick Perry, Bill Ratliff and David Dewhurst had successful terms under the two-thirds rule. It could be argued that this rule made them better leaders and improved the landmark legislation they passed (school finance, criminal justice reform, tort reform, tax cuts, worker comp reform, etc.).

Anyone notice which Lite Governor they left out of that recitation in the last paragraph? It’s not a coincidence, I assure you.

Let’s put aside the fetishization of super-majorities and the mythmaking that it’s the House producing all of the fever dream legislation these days while the Senate awaits with calm and wisdom to sort out the wheat from the chaff. (Tell me again, which chamber passed the “bathroom bill” in 2017?) The whole “require Senators to work across the aisle for the betterment of The People” thing sounds all nice and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”-like, but it ignores the utterly predictable reality of what will happen when and if Democrats achieve a majority in the upper chamber: Republican State Senators will immediately adopt of a model of intractable opposition to any bill that represents a Democratic priority, in the same way that Republican US Senators under Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to block literally everything President Obama wanted to do.

One reason for this is because Democratic State Senators have, to a large degree, taken similar action on many high-profile Republican priorities: redistricting, voter ID, more abortion restrictions, de-funding Planned Parenthood, “sanctuary cities”, “bathroom bills”, and so on. This is exactly why Dan Patrick, and to a lesser extent before him David Dewhurst, first weakened and then replaced the two-thirds rule, on the grounds that an elected legislative majority should be able to pass its bills with majority support. I hate these bills and I hate the effect they have had, but that’s why we have elections. I want a Democratic majority to be able to pass its bills with majority support when it is in that position as well.

But it’s the notion that requiring bipartisan consensus will be a net improvement to the process that is so laughable. Perhaps former Senators Deuell and Estes have forgotten, but the entire reason they are former Senators is because they were defeated in Republican primaries by opponents who successfully argued to the Republican voters in their districts that Deuell and Estes were too bipartisan, and too accommodating to the Democratic minority. They showed insufficient fealty to the Republican orthodoxy, and they needed to go. Would either of them argue with a straight face that Senators Bob Hall and Pat Fallon would “work with colleagues across the political aisle” in a hypothetical 16-15 or 17-14 Democratic Senate, in order to encourage better legislation and a more collegial atmosphere? I couldn’t even type that last sentence without snorting. The outcome we will get in a Senate with a modest Democratic majority and any kind of super-majoritarian rules is a Senate that passes no bills.

Again, I understand why this super-majority idea has some appeal. Maybe in a Democratic Senate where the likes of Krier and Ratliff and Sibley and Ogden and Deuell and Estes were the typical Republican Senators and none of them feared being tarred and feathered by their seething primary voters, we could indulge in this little fantasy. We don’t live in that world any more. I can’t even see it in my rearview mirror. The only thing this proposal would accomplish is the extended lifespan of every Republican priority from the past 20 years, possibly forever. I suspect they all know this, and that it appeals to them a lot more than the let’s-all-join-hands-and-work-together ideal ever would.

Rick Perry will be with us for a long time

Though we finally have an official end date for the reign of Rick Perry, it will be years before we fully purge him from our system.

Like corndogs, the Perry effect lingers

Like corndogs, the Perry effect lingers

The strong lieutenant governor legend gelled during Bill Hobby’s tenure from 1973 to 1991. He was a parliamentarian before he was lieutenant governor, the son of a governor and a United States cabinet secretary. His successor was Bob Bullock, who held the office for eight years but who built a power base in Texas government during 16 years as comptroller of public accounts.

Perry followed Bullock’s model, mentoring young lawyers and policy wonks and political animals and then posting them in agencies throughout the state government. After six years of Perry being in the governor’s office, virtually every appointee had him to thank for their post. And over his first decade in office, the governor seeded the executive branch with his former aides and their like-minded peers. They’re all over the place, with titles like executive director, general counsel, communications director and so on.

He owns it. Bullock did something similar by heading a big agency that eventually sprinkled former employees all over state government. Bullock people were everywhere. He had a long reach and an impressive intelligence network.

And Perry picked up the lesson, turning what was designed as a weak office into a strong one.

He has made it look better than it is.

His successor has to start all over. Perry’s transformation of the office might be permanent. The agencies might naturally turn their ears to a governor for guidance after all these years out of habit.

It will take six years to replace all the appointees who owe their jobs to Perry, a third of the jobs turning over every two years. The people at the tops of all of those agency organization charts will linger until retirement — Perry’s legacy —and while they may be helpful to a new governor, they will not be indebted like they are to the old boss.

While no one currently owes any allegiance to Greg Abbott, it’s unlikely that he’ll have too much trouble from anyone. They don’t need to love him, or to owe him, they’ll work for him because Abbott isn’t going to do anything much different than Perry had been doing. The interesting question to ponder is what happens in the event of, say, a Governor Davis in 2015 or a Governor Castro in 2019. How much can the Perry people, or the Perry and Abbott people do to impede a future Democratic Governor? In the old days one would have expected even a political appointee to be a professional first and foremost. To be fair, some of Perry’s appointees have been pros – while none of them would be on my short lists and all of them have done things I disagree with, I’d say Tom Pauken, Tom Suehs, Robert Scott, and Michael Williams have met my expectations for professionalism. But it’s not just them, it’s the people who work for them, who will be there well after Perry’s successors get to pick their agency heads. Who knows what kind of mischief they could cause if they had a mind to do so. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing here, but we’ve never had a governor like Rick Perry before. I don’t think it’s unusual to wonder about how life after Rick Perry will be.

It’s just business

The fact that Continental Airlines once had a cozy relationship with the City of Houston doesn’t mean that United Airlines should expect the same treatment.

Then two years ago, Continental got married, and it took a new name. Houston renewed the courtship by trying to entice United to locate its post-merger corporate presence here. United responded with a reminder that whatever the emotional component to the relationship between town and trade, corporations are guided by the bottom line. It moved 1,500 corporate jobs out of Houston to Chicago. Some Houston leaders regarded it as a stinging betrayal.

“Why did you buy Continental? Why did you do it?” Councilman Andrew Burks thundered at United executives making their pitch against Hobby expansion to the council last month.

Part of that pitch was that it would cost the city jobs. Former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby seized on what he considered the irony while attending a news conference to announce the Houston-Southwest deal at the airport named for his father.

“Continental, or United, has been very concerned about job losses in Houston. They weren’t so concerned about job losses when they moved their headquarters to Chicago,” Hobby said.

“I know there are hard feelings about the headquarters location, but the merger was something we felt we had to undertake for the company’s future, to protect future jobs,” said Nene Foxhall, executive vice president of communications and government affairs at United.

Let me rewrite that sentence for you, Nene:

“I know there are hard feelings about the Hobby expansion proposal, but giving the go-ahead to Southwest to spend their own money doing it was something we felt we had to undertake for the city’s future, to protect future jobs.”

Wasn’t that hard, was it? You can believe whatever economic projections about this deal that you want, but asking the city to ignore its own report and give you what you want amounts to special treatment. Continental might have been able to get away with that back in the day, but what exactly has United done to deserve it?

Ellis and Hobby on class size limits

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby hit all the high points in writing about the 22:1 class size limit and the effects we’d see if it were lifted.

The simple truth is that the 22-1 ratio has been on the books for a quarter-century because it works. In fact, despite the rhetoric of those trying to jettison this cornerstone of Texas’ school reform, study after study has proven that smaller class sizes lead to better results. The reason is simple: Smaller classes give teachers more one-on-one time with students and allow them to create more customized instruction and assignments to meet individual students’ needs. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Education concluded that smaller classes in early grades have significant positive effects through grade eight and help to close the achievement gap between low- and high-achieving students. The more kids in a class, the more difficult it becomes for teachers to know their students better and recognize problems and special needs early.

The impact of replacing the 22-1 limit with a 22-class-size average would be immediate and touch every family with a child in elementary school. Undoubtedly, many kindergarten through fourth-grade classes would grow significantly, as some classes, particularly those with special needs students, are notably smaller than 22. In order words, one class could have 10 school kids, while another could be jammed to the gills with 34 students, yet the school would meet the requirements of the “reform.” Is that what we really want for our children?

Eliminating 22-1 would likely force almost 12,000 teachers to lose their jobs. With Texas’ unemployment rate already higher than 8 percent, the loss of such a dramatic number of jobs would be felt in communities throughout the state. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves that only the so-called “bad teachers” would be the ones given pink slips. Changing 22-1 is about budget savings first and foremost, so the incentive will be to lay off the more experienced, higher paid educators.

The truth is school districts truly struggling with the 22-1 limit can already request a waiver from the Texas Education Agency. Some 3,000 waivers have been granted, while only five requests have been rejected since the law was implemented in 1984.

I’ve written about this several times now – see here for some previous links – so while there’s nothing new here, it’s worth repeating. The main thing I want to say again is that if those who are pushing to raise the class size limits are so convinced that it will have little to no effect on student performance, they should back their belief by creating a condition that would void their legislation in the event performance did backslide. What do you suppose are the odds of that happening?

To be fair and balanced, via Ezra Klein here’s Bill Gates advocating for larger class sizes in some cases.

We know that of all the variables under a school’s control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching. It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.

Yet compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.

To flip the curve, we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement.

To this end, our foundation is working with nearly 3,000 teachers in seven urban school districts to develop fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Research teams are analyzing videos of more than 13,000 lessons – focusing on classes that showed big student gains so it can be understood how the teachers did it. At the same time, teachers are watching their own videos to see what they need to do to improve their practice.

Our goal is a new approach to development and evaluation that teachers endorse and that helps all teachers improve.

[…]

Perhaps the most expensive assumption embedded in school budgets – and one of the most unchallenged – is the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement. This belief has driven school budget increases for more than 50 years. U.S. schools have almost twice as many teachers per student as they did in 1960, yet achievement is roughly the same.

What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great.

Should they succeed in coming up with a universally-accepted method for “fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement”, then I think this idea will be worth considering. That strikes me as being far easier said than done. And it must be noted that the Gates Foundation’s track record in education reform is spotty, so a certain amount of skepticism is warranted. In addition, as Dana Goldstein points out, class size is about more than just test scores.

Since small class sizes alone don’t ensure high achievement, at least as measured by standardized tests, it might make sense to argue that maintaining small classes should not be a priority during lean economic times. The problem is that American parents are concerned not only with their children’s test scores, but also with their day to day experiences at school. Parents want their children to have meaningful personal relationships with educators–the sorts of life-changing experiences many of us remember fondly when we think back on our favorite teachers, whether they helped us score higher on a chemistry exam or just got us through a difficult time at home.

Well, yeah. There’s a reason why colleges, in particular private colleges, harp endlessly on student/faculty ratios and classes being taught by actual professors and not graduate assistants. If it means something at that level, it surely means something at the elementary and secondary levels, too.

Business leaders urged to oppose “cuts only” approach to the budget

Good luck with that.

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby is helping lead an effort to rally Texas business leaders against what he calls a “catastrophic” cuts-only approach to balancing the state’s budget in the face of a massive shortfall, estimated at $15 billion to $27 billion over the next two years.

Hobby, a board member of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and F. Scott McCown, the group’s executive director, say in a letter being sent today to the state’s hundreds of chambers of commerce that such an approach would undermine the state’s economic recovery, weaken education and leave vulnerable Texans unprotected. The center focuses on low- and moderate-income Texans.

“We simply can’t balance the budget through cuts alone without doing terrible damage to our economy and our future,” Hobby and McCown said in the letter.

They want business leaders to speak up for a “balanced approach” that includes spending the state’s rainy day fund savings account, which is expected to contain $9.4 billion; adding new revenue through such options as increasing alcohol or tobacco taxes; raising taxes on “sugar-loaded” drinks; eliminating “unwarranted” sales tax exemptions; or temporarily increasing the state’s sales tax rate.

You can read Hobby and McCown’s letter here I applaud them for this, and I wish them the very best of luck, but a couple of points. One, let’s not expect too much from the business community. They’re kinda sorta on board with this, but if you read their quotes in the story or listen to what they have to say here, they’re supportive in a very mush-mouthed kind of way. They’re okay with using the Rainy Day Fund – which is a big deal, don’t get me wrong – but not much beyond that. They don’t want to see education gutted, but they don’t want to pay for it, either.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, which has 220 local chambers as members, said his group opposes a cuts-only approach, although it doesn’t back spending the entire rainy day fund and doesn’t want new taxes. It favors keeping spending about the same over the next two years.

Well, we have $15 billion less to spend than we did two years ago, and the entire Rainy Day Fund would only cover 60% of that. How do you expect us to get there from here, Bill? This is likely to have as much effect on the debate as the business community’s pitiably weak opposition to anti-immigration legislation has had. I have more faith in the school superintendents.

The other point I’d make is that if I’d written the CPPP’s letter, I’d have stuck to the revenue ideas already on the table, which include reviewing the sales tax exemptions, fixing the business margins tax – yes, I know, even with this audience – the LBB recommendations, and expanded gambling. I would not have mentioned new things like the sugar tax or other extra sin taxes, since they’re extremely unlikely to get anywhere and might distract from the overall message. Just my opinion.

By the way, if anyone reading this still thinks that balancing the budget with cuts only is a good idea, here’s more evidence that you’re wrong.

State protective services chief Anne Heiligenstein dropped some bad news on Senate budget writers today: Her year-old push to redesign the payment system for foster care providers will be a non-starter if lawmakers approve proposed cuts that would effectively drive down rates by 12 percent.

Abused and neglected children with complex emotional and psychiatric problems often are ripped from their home communities in North Texas and shipped down I-45 to so-called “residential treatment centers” in the Houston area, Heiligenstein has said, saying she’d like to change that. An agreed-upon overhaul of rates and contracting would put a private provider in charge of a region, which would include a duty to make sure there are enough beds close to home.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who’s sponsoring the redesign bill, asked if efficiencies might be found that would allow the effort to go forward.

Not really, said Heiligenstein, head of the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees Child Protective Services.

“The presumption for being able to do this is that there would not be a rate roll-back,” she told the Senate Finance Committee. “We will not ask for an increase in foster care rates … , but we need what is currently invested in the system, plus normal caseload growth.”

Is that something you really want to support? BurkaBlog has more.

Hobby and Ellis on Medicaid

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby lay out the reasons why quitting Medicaid would be a disaster for the state.

Texas already has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest uninsured population in the country. It is estimated that providing care to the uninsured costs the insured family $1,500 dollars annually in increased premiums.

Massive-scale projects, like abolishing the Medicaid program, usually require a well developed plan that includes stakeholder input, pilot projects, staggered implementation and a funding source. If Texas has a viable state plan to cover its 3.1 million Medicaid beneficiaries, it has yet to be seen. In late 2007, Texas proposed a Medicaid waiver to then-President George W. Bush. The waiver was not approved by the Bush administration because its benefits were lacking and annual limits were too low. Three years later, that waiver is still pending.

[…]

Beyond the lack of a viable plan for dropping Medicaid, there are no funding sources available to replace the loss $20 billion annually in federal matching funds which Texas gains because 60 percent of our Medicaid program is paid for with federal dollars. The Texas economy would then suffer the loss of $60 billion in economic activity. Prominent Texas economists have estimated that for every one extra federal matching Medicaid dollar spent $3.25 worth of local economic activity is generated.

If lack of a plan and funding are not reason enough to throw out that deficit solution, opting out of Medicaid has the potential to affect a large percent of our state’s population. Medicaid pays for care for seven out of 10 nursing home residents, and for virtually all Texans with disabilities who get care in residential settings, 55 percent of all births in Texas, and for the health insurance for more than 2.3 million Texas children. By reducing or eliminating Medicaid these individuals would be forced to seek care in local hospital emergency rooms, which are already struggling to cover the cost of the uninsured as are Texas taxpayers.

But remember that the cost of treating uninsured Texans in emergency rooms is borne by city and county government, not state government. The state government can chalk up all the “savings” it wants by simply throwing people out on the street, and then it can pat itself on the back for being “fiscally responsible” by balancing the budget without raising taxes. The fact that you’ll wind up paying a lot more anyway won’t be their problem, as far as they’re concerned.

Bill Hobby bashes the SBOE

Boy, I don’t know who put the hot sauce in former Lite Guv Bill Hobby’s Cheerios, but keep it up, I say. Go read it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

When you’re done with that, you can go sign State Rep. Mike Villarreal’s petition calling on the SBOE to knock it off with the clown show politics already. Yes, I know, it’s going to take a lot more than that to make it happen, but having a show of numbers is always a good thing.