Inside Intelligence: The Political Environment

This week marks a return to our periodic pre-election "mood" questions, wherein we ask the insiders how they feel about the national and state economies, about important issues, and about the general direction of the state and the nation.

Economic issues dominate the list of most important problems facing the country, with the economy, federal spending/national debt, and unemployment/jobs all in the top five. Education led the state list of problems chosen by the insiders, followed by water supply and state budget cuts.

Both the country and the state are on the wrong track, according to a majority of the insiders, though they're a little more pessimistic about the country than about Texas. That said, 50 percent think the U.S. economy is "somewhat better off" than it was a year ago, and 54 percent say the same about the state economy. Some — 5 percent on the national question, 13 percent on the state question — say the economy is "a lot better off." Most of the rest say things are about the same as a year ago, economically speaking.

Finally, we asked for their take on the troubles in the national economy: 50 percent say the worst is over, while 32 percent say the worst is yet to come.

The insiders were talkative this week, and we've included their verbatim comments in the attached document. A sampling follows:

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What would you say is the most important problem facing this country today?

• "Without improving the way the process of making sausage works, nothing else can improve meaningfully."

• "Not just income inequality, but the combination of that and the current system of political contributions/cronyism."

• "Spending, debt and burdensome tax systems at all levels of government."

• "It starts and ends with the economy. If there are no jobs and no economic growth, addressing the other major issues we face as a country is just wishing because there will be no tax dollars to help pay for solutions."

• "Actually lack of sleep, but it wasn't on the list."

• "The seemingly irreversible growth of demographic elements permanently dependent on government is the primary threat to the nation's long-term survival."

• "It's the economy stupid. Always has been. Always will be."

• "If we get education right, our brainpower will help us solve most of the others."

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What would you say is the most important problem facing the state of Texas today?

• "Ensuring a business friendly climate--educated workforce, adequate water supply, affordable and plentiful electricity, infrastructure that can serve the needs of the state, and reasonable/predictable environmental regulation."

• "I replied with "taxes," but only because I couldn't specifically reply with "school finance.""

• "A better educated adult population makes all these other issues potentially solvable."

• "Infrastructure funding- water & transportation are at the top."

• "The true answer is infrastructure...which includes transportation, water, energy, and education. These 4 issues will decide whether the Texas we know today will exist tomorrow."

• "One cannot reasonably choose just one. Education and water are the biggies that need immediate attention and action!"

• "Health care spending, especially Medicaid, CHIP and Dual Eligible coverage is unsustainable and is already crowding out spending on education, criminal justice and transportation."

• "Texas is blessed in many ways but an abundance of water is not one of them.  Growing population, a semi-arid climate, and an overly zealous property rights position on water spells big problems looming."

• "We certainly have great infrastructure needs; but if we do not produce an educated workforce, we will have a 3rd world economy--with or without that infrastructure."

• "There will come a time where the state can no-longer import an educated workforce and we can no-longer afford to support the uneducated."

• "I like how you conflated political corruption with political leadership. Time saver!"

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Thinking about the country, do you think that things are headed in the right direction, or do you think that things are headed off on the wrong track?

• "The world still hates us and we're a joke to the terrorists, Russians, and Chinese; domestically we're sputtering along with no meaningful job growth.  Recipe for disaster."

• "No one is leading in either party."

• "Seriously?  We've been above 8% unemployment for years, we have no leadership nationally, and the Middle East is in disarray."

• "Obama has us on the wrong, wrong track."

• "As long as both parties refuse to work together and compromise, this country will continue on its course to nowhere."

• "But in ways that Romney would make worse, not better."

• "What track?  The wheels fell of years ago."

Compared to a year ago, would you say that the national economy is a lot better off, somewhat better off, about the same, somewhat worse off, or a lot worse off?

• "Fewer jobs to be had, fewer folks looking for jobs, debt continues to increase (both personal and govt), etc."

• "If there's any significant difference in the economic landscape from a year ago, I sure don't see it."

• "Government rules and regulations are bankrupting America. We must learn from the failed policies of the past that created the same abysmal failures. Obama wants more of the same, but more QEs are NOT the right direction."

• "Unemployment is only dropping because people are stopping their job search.  We need a change."

• "Obama is slowly digging us out of a huge hole left by the Bushies.  Too bad there's not a Congress that will help."

• "We are one catastrophe away from a 2008 replay."

• "Pols looking for people to blame and not solutions."

• "But economic instability in the EU is still the undraped shoe."

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Thinking about the state of Texas, do you think that things are headed in the right direction, or do you think that things are headed off on the wrong track?

• "We are delusional about the sustainability of underfunding education and basic infrastructure.  It's all going to come back to bite us."

• "I chose don't know because neither of the other two options fit. Texas is doing some things really well, but closing its eyes to some real problems. Texas is handling its short-term issues very well. It is ignoring long-term issues - infrastructure for roads, water, etc."

• "We have statewide "leaders" who cater to primary voters and who think that vouchers, TSA groping and sanctuary cities are the most important issues facing the state.  It's time our leaders started filtering the masses and deal with the serious issues our state faces in a serious way."

• "Right track economically. Wrong track on some other important issues (like education). You can have both."

• "It's all falling into disrepair - school, roads, water.  Low taxes and less regulation are not the answer."

• "Texas is on the right track, but for only one reason:  oil & gas.  Take that out of the equation, and we're no better than the rest of the country."

• "It is not a coincidence that the Texas economy is markedly better than the rest of the country. Generations of investments in human capital and a world-class infrastructure brought us to this place.  Ironically, those who tout our prosperity the loudest are the same folks who are now hell bent on ensuring that future generations won't receive such an inheritance from us.    Shame on the shortsighted.  They will be the ruin of this great state."

• "Failure to educate our people, especially Latinos; engineered collapse of public education, accelerated by Patrick and vouchers; crushing public health challenges, esp. for Latinos."

• "You can't cut cut cut and expect a good outcome"

Compared to a year ago, would you say that the Texas economy is a lot better off, somewhat better off, about the same, somewhat worse off, or a lot worse off?

• "Growing and importing a demographic that infrastructure cannot accommodate"

• "A big thank you to the oil and gas industry and Texas being lucky enough to have these shale deposits."

• "We are better than the rest of the country, but oil and gas money can mask a lot of problems."

• "Thanks to the luck of what is three miles underground.  Otherwise we'd be Mississippi."

• "Low tax states are typically the first out of a recession."

• "Every elected official should thank the companies exploring the Eagle Ford."

• "Lots of people moving here, and escaping other parts of the country, tells a story inconvenient for you Texas-haters."

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Thinking about the condition of the national economy, do you think the worst is over or is the worst yet to come?

• "Ask me again on Nov. 7."

• "Depends on EU, China"

• "The DEBT is killing us. We cannot continue to print money and expect the future to be bright."

• "Outcome in November will determine if we're headed over that Fiscal Cliff"

• "Sooner or later, the bill comes due."

• "It depends on Europe, whether Obama is re-elected, and whether he finds the strength to use the bully pulpit to cow the House Republicans into something approaching rationality."

• "European and Chinese economies will be key to ensuring that the US does not slide back into recession"

• "But Congress jacking around with the fiscal cliff is going to freak out the financial markets with increasing ferocity the closer we get to the end of the year."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, David Anthony, Jay Arnold, Louis Bacarisse, Tom Banning, Mike Barnett, Walt Baum, Dave Beckwith, Amy Beneski, Rebecca Bernhardt, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Jay Brown, Blaine Bull, Kerry Cammack, Marc Campos, Thure Cannon, Snapper Carr, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, James Clark, Rick Cofer, John Colyandro, Harold Cook, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, Eva De Luna-Castro, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Rebecca Flores, Wil Galloway, Neftali Garcia, Norman Garza, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, John Greytok, Jack Gullahorn, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Adam Haynes, John Heasley, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Billy Howe, Laura Huffman, Shanna Igo, Richie Jackson, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Bill Jones, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, Dale Laine, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Donald Lee, Luke Legate, Myra Leo, Richard Levy, Elizabeth Lippincott, Ruben Longoria, Homero Lucero, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Phillip Martin, Dan McClung, Scott McCown, Debra Medina, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Craig Murphy, Keir Murray, Pat Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, John Pitts, Allen Place, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Jay Pritchard, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Bill Ratliff, Tim Reeves, Kim Ross, Jason Sabo, Mark Sanders, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Ben Sebree, Bradford Shields, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Keith Strama, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Jay Thompson, Russ Tidwell, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, Ken Whalen, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Christopher Williston, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Lee Woods, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.