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Who'll Control the Crayons Next Year?

As more candidate filings become available from the state's bigger counties, it's apparent that Republicans are going to have a noisy beginning to the year. They've got an unusual number of primary election challengers to their legislative incumbents. Democrats, meanwhile, are making a weak play for political control in the next decade. That's not an assessment of whether their candidates can compete — it's about whether they're in position to make real gains even if they do win some elections. Redistricting comes around in 2011, and the minority party needs either a House majority or a majority of seats on an arcane legislative board to control the map-making. They don't appear to be in position to do that.

As more candidate filings become available from the state's bigger counties, it's apparent that Republicans are going to have a noisy beginning to the year. They've got an unusual number of primary election challengers to their legislative incumbents. Democrats, meanwhile, are making a weak play for political control in the next decade. That's not an assessment of whether their candidates can compete — it's about whether they're in position to make real gains even if they do win some elections. Redistricting comes around in 2011, and the minority party needs either a House majority or a majority of seats on an arcane legislative board to control the map-making. They don't appear to be in position to do that.

In a year of active conservative protests against federal spending and economic and health policies, Texas legislators on the state and federal level face more competition than usual on this year's ballots. It'll be about two weeks before candidates report their campaign finances — that'll be the first real clue as to the strength of the challengers and the incumbents they seek to depose.

Texas Democrats, meanwhile, are mounting a mild offensive on statewide offices that figure into redistricting. The Legislature will try to draw new political maps after the 2010 census. If they fail (or the governor vetoes their plans), congressional maps will go to court and state maps will go to a five-member panel that includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the comptroller, land commissioner, and attorney general. Democrats didn't produce a comptroller candidate, and recent resignations and party switches made it more difficult to take control of the House and the speakership next year. They'd have to go three-of-three — winning Lite Guv, attorney general, and land commissioner to have a majority on the Legislative Redistricting Board.

A different perspective: A Democrat of some repute (take it either way) points out that while there are weaknesses on the ticket (nobody challenged the comptroller with her seat on the LRB?), the Democrats are a lot better off than they were in October and early November. There's a solid and/or well-financed candidates for governor now, in Farouk Shami and Bill White, and the other candidates who were clamoring for that job have scattered, either leaving (Tom Schieffer) or moving on to another race (Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert). For some Democrats, compared with the prospects before Halloween, or Thanksgiving, this ticket looks actually desirable.

The first Monday of the year was the filing deadline for the 2010 elections, and the parties published preliminary lists — that means they are maddeningly incomplete — of the people who want to run the state next year. Democrats and Republicans will nominate their candidates in the March primaries; Libertarians had the same filing deadline but will choose their nominees in a series of county, district and state conventions in March and June. The lists come with caveats: Candidates whose districts don't cross county lines file with local party officials and not with the state. The state parties are working to get accurate master lists; only the Libertarian list is full and complete at the moment. They have ten days to gather names from the counties, and to scrub and deliver the final rosters to the Texas Secretary of State, which administers elections. The full ballots, as they stand now, can be found in the Election 2010 database at our sibling publication, The Texas Tribune.

Some notes from the filings:

• The biggest surprise of the deadline filers was former state Sen. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville, who broke a 14-year absence from the ballot by filing for Land Commissioner. He'll face Bill Burton of Athens in the Democratic primary; the winner will face incumbent Republican Jerry Patterson in November. Cinema trivia fans: Uribe and Patterson were both in The Alamo — Uribe as an actor and Patterson as an extra. And Uribe had a speaking part in No Country for Old Men. And Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert will spar for the right to face Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in November.

• Most of what's at the top of the ballot was known, but some new folks joined the battle. Five Libertarians want that job, led by Jeff Daiell, who's been on the ballot for Houston City Council, U.S. Senate, and for governor (twice). Seven Democrats filed, including Alma Aguado, Felix Alvarado, Bill Dear, Clement Glenn, Star Locke, Farouk Shami, and Bill White. If nothing else, that number raises the chances of a primary runoff on April 13 — the high number of candidates could make it difficult for anyone to get more than 50 percent. The Republicans have three candidates and you've heard of all of them: Kay Bailey Hutchison, Debra Medina, and Rick Perry.

Linda Chavez-Thompson joined the lieutenant governor field; the San Antonio labor leader will run against former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and restaurateur Marc Katz; the winner will face incumbent Republican David Dewhurst in November.

• U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, drew a primary challenge from Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson. The Democrats didn't put up candidates for all of the statewide court seats on the ballot, but the Libertarians did. Six Republicans and a Democrat are after an open seat on the Texas Supreme Court — a group that includes former state Rep. Rick Green of Dripping Springs — and two Republicans and a Democrat are in the running for the seat held since October by Justice Eva Guzman of Houston.

• House Speaker Joe Straus, elected just a year ago after a contentious couple of weeks, didn't draw a major-party opponent.

• Denton County Republicans Myra Crownover and Burt Solomons unexpectedly drew primary opponents. She'll face Kurt Hyde on March 2; he'll face Mike Murphy.

• Democrats are challenging Republicans in all three Texas Supreme Court slots on the ballot, but left two of three Rs on the other high court — the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — unopposed.

• U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, drew five opponents in his own primary. And one Democrat. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, drew three primary opponents. And so did U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside. And Republican Kay Granger of Fort Worth drew two.

• As expected, Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville will have opposition in his first GOP primary this year. Hopson switched parties in November and some of his new friends had hoped to keep the field clear. But two Republicans in that East Texas district are gunning for him in what should be one of the most interesting races on the ballot.

• The House ballot has three rematches on it. In Houston, Al Edwards will be defending his seat against fellow Democrat Borris Miles, who won it away in 2006 and then lost the first rematch in 2008. Nearby, Rep. Kristi Thibaut, D-Houston, will face the guy she beat last year, former Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston. In Waco, Republican Charles "Doc" Anderson will face Democrat John Mabry in November; he beat Mabry to win the seat in 2004.

• Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the leader of the House Democrats, has an opponent: Leon County GOP Chair Marva Beck signed up on the last day to oppose him.

• And there were no last-minute resignations. The only members who volunteered not to come back — one in the Senate, and eight in the House — announced their intentions well before the filing deadline. If you don't have a calculator handy, that means 100 percent of the congressional delegation, 96 percent of the state senators, and 95 percent of the state representatives want to come back. The drops: Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; and Reps. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio; Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita; David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls; Kino Flores, D-Palmview; Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown; Carl Isett, R-Lubbock; Brian McCall, R-Plano; and David Swinford, R-Dumas.

Winners at the Starting Gate

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, got a clean run: Nobody — no Republican, no Democrat, no Libertarian — filed against him. He'll get another term without spending a dime (other than the filing fee he already covered). So did Lawrence Allen Jr., a Democratic member of the State Board of Education. No statewides got byes. Not one member of the Texas congressional delegation gets to sleep through the political year.

And look at the House members without Republicans or Libertarians in their way — all 45 of them: Reps. Bryan Hughes, R- Corsicana; Leo Berman, R-Tyler; Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe; Allan Ritter, D-Nederland; Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur; Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria; Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi; Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi; Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Richard Raymond, D-Laredo; Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen; Ralph Sheffield, R-Temple; Jim Keffer, R-Eastland; Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; Jerry Madden, R-Richardson; Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon; Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo; Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso; Tracy King, D-Batesville; Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa; Tom Craddick, R-Midland; John Smithee, R-Amarillo; Warren Chisum, R-Pampa; Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Helen Giddings, D-Dallas; Barbara Mallory Caraway, D-Dallas; Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas; Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio; Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio; Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio; Wayne Smith, R-Baytown; Alma Allen, D-Houston; Gary Elkins, R-Houston; Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; Armando Walle, D-Houston; Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston; Carol Alvarado, D-Houston; and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

History as Wingman

Opponents aren't the same thing as competitors. No Libertarian has posed an electoral threat to a Republican or Democratic candidate in state office in past elections. Unless there's an upset of the most unusual kind in the offing, they're not likely to pull it off this time. And some candidates from the major parties drew only Libertarian opponents.

That list includes Comptroller Susan Combs, the only statewide executive official who didn't get a major party opponent. Two judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — Lawrence Meyers and Cheryl Johnson — will face Libertarians, but not Democrats.

In the congressional delegation, this category includes U.S. Reps. Louis Gohmert, R-Tyler; Ted Poe, R-Humble; Sam Johnson, R-Plano; John Culberson, R-Houston; and Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon.

In the state Senate, the all-but-done list includes Sens. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

The House list has 26 people on it: Reps. John Otto, R-Dayton; Mike "Tuffy" Hamilton, R-Mauriceville; Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood; Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land; Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg; Randy Weber, R-Pearland; Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi; Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin; Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin; Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville; Phil King, R-Weatherford; Larry Phillips, R-Sherman; Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; Susan King, R-Abilene; Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels; Joe Pickett, D-El Paso; Diane Patrick, R-Arlington; Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth; Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton; Joe Farias, D-San Antonio; Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio; Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio; Allen Fletcher, R-Tomball; and Beverly Woolley, R-Houston.

Add 'em up — this list and the list of unopposed representatives, and 71 of the 150 House contests are already settled.

A Primary, or a General, but Not Both

Some races will be over for the year when the primaries are over; the candidates have ballots on March 2, but the winners there will skate — or face only minor party candidates — in November.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, D-Conroe, has three primary opponents, but no Democrats entered that race. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, has one challenger in the GOP primary, as does John Carter, R-Georgetown.

Three of the races for the State Board of Education will be family fights that end after the primaries, unless the Libertarians in those races can find unprecedented support. Don McLeroy, Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, and Bob Craig all have Republican opponents.

In the Senate, Kip Averitt of Waco and Florence Shapiro of Plano both drew Republican challengers, but no Democrats.

In the House, 20 races have major-party opponents only within their own parties: Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Van; Betty Brown, R-Terrell (whose opponent is a former staffer); Tommy Merritt, R-Longview; Fred Brown, R-Bryan; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville; Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco; Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island; Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin; Sid Miller, R-Stephenville; Myra Crownover, R-Denton; Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton; Norma Chavez, D-El Paso; Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock; Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills; Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake; and Al Edwards, D-Houston. The open seat in Georgetown, were Dan Gattis not to seek reelection, drew four Republicans, a Libertarian, and no Democrats. Another open seat, where Ismael "Kino" Flores is stepping down, two Democrats and nobody else filed. Brian McCall's open seat in Plano attracted three Republicans and two Libertarians.

Conversely, candidates in some races don't have to break a competitive sweat until later in the year. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for instance, doesn't have a primary fight but will face a Democrat in November. The race for attorney general is also a November contest, with one Republican, one Democrat and one Libertarian in the hunt. Add in two statewide judicial races, four congressional contests, one SBOE matchup, two Senate races, and 29 House fights.

All In

Last, we come to the brawlers — the races where there's a primary (or two) and then a general. The candidates will have to fight in March and fight again in November.

That describes the race at the top of the bill, which has seven Democrats, three Republicans and five Libertarians each thinks she or he should be the next governor of Texas. The Democratic halves of the races for Lite Guv, land and agriculture commissioners all feature primaries, the winners of which will battle Republican incumbents in November. But Rick Perry is the only statewide officeholder who's being challenged both in March and November.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, will see challenges across the calendar, as will Michael McCaul, R-Austin; Mike Conaway, R-Midland; Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth; Ron Paul, R-Surfside; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston; and Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio.

Former Rep. Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican who's now on the SBOE, will face both spring and fall opponents. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, is the only state senator with both a primary fight and a general election fight in front of him.

As for the Texas House, Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, has opposition in March and November. Plenty of members face a Democrat or a Republican next year, but he's the only one who'll face both.

Outer Limits

What seemed like a mountain on Wednesday might in fact be a molehill.

This week, Gov. Rick Perry announced his intention to promote constitutional amendments to limit spending in Texas, causing cheers from supporters and jeers from critics.

But upon further review, the amendments might not be worth the uproar.

Perry outlined two amendments. One would limit spending increases to the rate of inflation and population growth, while the other would require a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.

First of all, the proposals weren’t exactly new.

Perry campaign spokesperson Catherine Frazier described the governor's announcement as “reiterating his priority,” which was outlined a year ago in Perry's State of the State speech.

Then there’s the fact that lawmakers already spend within the proposed limits, according to both the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Texas Taxpayers Research Association.

“The spending limitation has mattered far less than the conservatism of the Legislature,” said Dale Craymer of TTRA.

Such amendments “don’t eliminate all mischief,” explains Craymer, “because there are a lot of things that states can do administratively that harm taxpayers but don’t raise taxes.”

Craymer, whose group represents businesses that pay corporate, sales, property and other taxes in the state, points to the 2003 session when, during tight economic times, the Legislature avoided raising taxes, but also denied taxpayers their tax refunds. (Eventually, the comptroller allowed individuals to claim the refunds as tax credits.)

“Taxpayers ended up suffering,” Craymer says, despite the fact that taxes technically stayed the same.

Unsurprisingly, Perry’s chief rival had a negative take on his plan. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s camp called the announcement “an election year ploy.” Campaign spokesman Joe Pounder argued that the governor already had the power to control spending and tax increases with his veto pen.

“I don’t understand why Rick Perry needs two-thirds of the Legislature to prevent a tax increase if he could just veto a tax increase,” Pounder said.

Scott McCown at CPPP says that while the proposed limits would not have affected much in the last few years, they're not a good idea. He's concerned over future limitations such amendments would cause. Just because Texas is consistently one of the lowest spending states doesn’t mean it should be, he says.

McCown hopes to see increased funding for education and other social programs — and the amendments might prevent such growth.

“Going forward, we need to spend more than population growth and inflation, and this would not allow us to do that,” he said.

Preventing that sort of expansion is exactly why some people say the proposals are important.

“I think rather objectively you can say that what we’ve done works,” says Michael Sullivan of Empower Texans, which advocates for limited government. “But a big chunk of it has been because we have had some pretty good right-thinking people in place.”

— by Abby Rapoport

Right Face

The Young Conservatives of Texas on Wednesday released its scorecard of the 81st Legislative Session, complete with an updated list of the GOP’s “Republicans in Name Only” (RINOs) and the session’s most liberal legislators.

Legislators were graded on how often they voted in line with the group’s own principals, which include the belief that “the Declaration of Independence... recognizes the freedom of an individual as inherited from one sovereign God” and predictably, that “the states of this nation are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent.”

Because their lifetime voting records fall in line with the YCT’s agenda less than 50 percent of the time, Republican Sens. Kip Averitt of Waco and Kevin Eltife of Tyler made the group’s RINO list, as did Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Tommy Merritt of Longview, and Delwin Jones of Lubbock, who sided with the YCT less than 60 percent. Everyone on that list, save Eltife, drew at least one primary opponent in 2010.

The report includes a new analysis that compares how committee chairs voted during the last two sessions, a barometer of sorts to measure committee action during the tenure of Republican House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and contrast it to the performance under his predecessor Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

“One of the most telling ways to measure a Speaker is to evaluate who he appointed as committee chairs because these people truly dominate the legislative process,” said Tony McDonald, the TYC’s vice-chairman of legislative affairs.

If the TYC ruled over state politics Straus would be sent out to pasture as committee chairs slid an average of 25 points according to the group’s scorecard.

Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas was bestowed the honor of most liberal legislator for never voting in line with the group, and shares space on the list with more than two dozen lawmakers, all Democrats, who pleased the YCT 10 percent of the time or less.

The YCT relied mainly on record votes on bills considered for second reading in the House and on the motion to suspend the regular order of business in the Senate.

“The two votes are the most important in determining whether a piece of legislation moves forward and therefore are the best point in the legislative process to measure our representatives’ positions,” explained McDonald.

— by Julian Aguilar

Political People and Their Moves

Former Rep. Timoteo Garza, D-Eagle Pass, got un-convicted (on procedural grounds) by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He and his mom and dad were convicted on charges they misappropriated money from the Lucky Eagle Casino run by the Kickapoo Tribe for personal and political use. Isidro Garza Jr. is a former tribal manager of the Kickapoos. The appeals court said moving the trial to Waco (instead of, say, San Antonio) spoiled the fairness of it.

Longtime Midland County Republican Party Chair Sue Brannon plans to step down from the post, but remain with the party as vice-chair. "I feel like it's time for a new generation to take over," she told the Midland Reporter Telegram.

U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson of the Southern District of Texas announced this week he will be stepping from the post to enter private practice. Johnson took over the position after former U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle resigned in 2008.

Tracy Young, who worked in the press shops at the Bush White House and in the U.S. Department of Education, is the new communications director for House Speaker Joe Straus. She's replacing Angela Hale, who took the job a year ago and left this fall for private sector media consulting.

Deaths: Bill Maddox, a former newspaperman — executive editor of the Port Arthur News — who capped off his career consulting with Austin-based Public Strategies Inc., after a battle with cancer. He was 71... Emma Barrientos, wife of the former state senator from Austin and a civic force on her own. She was 67... Democratic political consultant Kelly Fero, best known as an Austin-based consultant to John Sharp, the late Jim Mattox and many, many others. He was a musician, a talented writer, a top-notch researcher, and had a reputation for smashmouth quotes and sharp elbows that earned him strong friends and strong enemies in politics. He was 57.

Quotes of the Week

New York Gov. David Paterson, in his State of the State speech to the Legislature, quoted in The New York Times: "You have left me and other governors no choice. Whether it be by vetoes or delayed spending, I will not write bad checks, and we will not mortgage our children's future."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele telling the Washington Post what he has to say to his Republican critics: "If you don't want me in the job, fire me. But until then, shut up."

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in an email to alleged Ponzi-schemer Allen Stanford — reported by the Miami Herald — after charges were filed: "I love you and I believe in you. If you want my ear/voice — email."

U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tennessee, to The Dallas Morning News on the energy of 86-year-old U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall: "We all wish we could get a blood transfusion from Ralph."

Referencing their recent roles as soldiers in the 2004 movie "The Alamo," Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on his opponent Hector Uribe: "I should have shot him when I had the chance."

Gov. Rick Perry on why after playing six-man football in high school, he couldn't judge the Texas Tech coaching disputes, quoted by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: "There are too many people on the field when Texas Tech plays football."

Dr. Jim Luecke, a family practice doctor based in Alpine and Fort Davis who sometimes isn't paid in cash, telling The Texas Tribune about trading a caesarian birth 14 years ago for a lifetime of haircuts: "If you think about, after about 10 years of haircuts, you're caught up."

Linda Chavez-Thompson, who is running against the incumbent Republican lieutenant governor, on differences between her and her 6' 5" opponent: "I'm shorter than David Dewhurst. That's an attribute nobody else can say they have."

Texas Weekly's Op-Ed

The 2010 Agenda: Eduardo Sanchez on Public Health

Texas ranks forty-sixth among all states in health care and first in its percentage of uninsured citizens; one in five Texans has no health insurance. The top four diagnosed causes of death among Texans are heart disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. In addition to killing us, smoking and obesity cause preventable diseases that are very expensive to treat and a significant loss of workforce productivity, including increased absenteeism and disability.

Meanwhile, two trends will soon strain our medical care system. The first is that Texas is aging. If roughly one in ten Texans today is over age 65, in 2050 one in six will be over 65. The second is that the rates of childhood and adult obesity here continue to rise; with the shifting racial and ethnic profile of the state, they rise faster here than in many other parts of the country. The demand for care and the cost of care for seniors will compete with the demand and cost of care for the increasing number of Texans who are obese and, as a result, have also been or will be diagnosed with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or some forms of arthritis. All of these conditions are treatable, but they're expensive to treat and occupy the attention of a physician workforce that is in short supply.

While the national health reform debate of late has centered on universal insurance coverage and cost control, let's be clear: Whether we're talking national health reform or Texas-specific health reform, the prize is optimal health for all, which, among other positive benefits, will surely reduce the demand for medical care of preventable diseases. The Texas health agenda for 2010, then, should help Texans stay or become as optimally healthy as possible and provide access to preventive, chronic, and acute care  — when appropriate and necessary.

Three strategies can move Texas in the right direction: a statewide indoor smoking ban, statewide universal K-12 coordinated school health programs, and the serious consideration of all available options to reduce the number of uninsured Texans.

I'll start with the last one first. There is no doubt that insuring more Texans will be an expensive proposition; however, for a state that takes pride in its Christian values and sensibilities, as it well should, universal insurance is a moral imperative in the spirit of The Good Samaritan. Furthermore, the cost associated with increasing the number of insured Texans could be lessened by banning indoor smoking in all public places and assuring that all schools have coordinated health programs that improve the quality of food in the schools, make physical education a daily expectation, and incorporate healthy lifestyle lessons into the daily curriculum.

Smoking tobacco increases the likelihood of premature disease, disability, and death from heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema. Indoor smoking bans are associated with a fairly immediate reduction of admissions to hospitals for myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks. Fewer myocardial infarctions are good for families (there's less grief and anguish), good for employers (less sick leave, disability, and medical care costs), and good for medical care systems (less of a cost to the public system and less demand for care in sometimes overcrowded emergency room settings). Smoking bans make it easier for those who want to quit smoking to do so and more difficult for those who want to start to do so — particularly adolescents. A statewide indoor smoking ban is a relatively inexpensive way to reduce medical care utilization and cost and improve the health of Texans.

Coordinated school health programs hold the promise of reversing and preventing childhood obesity. Not only do they improve children's health, but they're associated with improved academic performance and decreased disciplinary problems. High school graduation (and some college education) is associated with better adult health status. Childhood obesity is on the rise. It threatens the health of children when they're children and when they become adults.  The cost of universal coordinated school health programs is on the order of $10 to $15 per child per year, in contrast to a cost of approximately $1,000 per year for medical care. Better health and better academic performance make this a must-do.

The ultimate goal is the best health possible for each Texan and for all Texans. A healthy workforce and healthy Texas children mean a state that competes effectively for business. The 2010 health agenda for Texas, therefore, should be about the public's health, the health of 24 million Texans. A physically healthy Texas is a fiscally healthy Texas.

— Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., was Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services from 2004 to 2006 and the Texas Department of Health from 2001 to 2004. He is currently a vice president and chief medical offer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.

The 2010 Agenda: Bill Hammond on Business

Unemployment trends are reversing and, thankfully, more of our state's employers are opening their doors to new employees. However, in order to restore jobs lost during the recession and to prepare for those ready to enter the job market, Texas must create more than two million jobs in the next decade, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That won't be easy, but the good news is that we are starting to make progress. A key factor in Texas achieving this job growth target is having educated employees available to fill positions as they become available.

A recent article in The Economist noted that while Texas enjoys the best business climate in America, future problems related to education could erode that status dramatically. The Texas Association of Business believes Texas must establish a long-term goal of raising the education attainment of its workforce to a globally competitive level of 55 percent of the working age population (age 25-64) holding an associate degree or above by the year 2030. The business community pays for two-thirds of the cost of educating our children and will be the ultimate consumers of their knowledge when companies seek to fill jobs. As such, the Texas business community must step up to the plate as a critical friend of education by demanding first-class education and first-class results. Beyond the obvious economic imperative, a moral imperative exists that challenges the Texas education system to produce stronger results.

In order to meet the target of restoring and creating more good-paying jobs, the business community must engage at both the state and local level. To that end, we should all support three changes to our education system.

Implement an honest accountability system. The current academic accountability system is reminiscent of Enron in many ways. For example, the system rewards schools for the academic performance that they expect to happen but that has not yet actually occurred. This backwards process has caused a false-positive spike in the number of schools rated "Exemplary" or "Recognized," now at 61%. This same system also gives schools ratings such as "Academically Acceptable" where 49% of the students can fail sections of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. As if those statistics are not outrageous enough, the Texas Education Agency, which implements the education standards set by the Legislature, has the audacity to claim that the Texas dropout rate is only 12%. Everybody knows the number to be much greater. The current education system will not allow Texas to remain globally competitive. If Texans were unflinchingly honest about how our students are truly performing, we would be able to fully address the scope of the issue. The ball is in the court of the Texas Education Agency to account for the real numbers.

Foster a college-going culture. Our students must be engrained with the expectation that they will attain post-secondary education while at the same time providing them with the information and tools necessary to do so. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is already taking important steps in educating Texans about the financial options available for students and their families who worry about how they will pay for academic options.

Create a results-based higher education finance system. Texas must alter the funding formulas it uses for higher education and base them on the successful completion of courses, not simply classroom attendance. Adult basic education and remedial education must be funded along similar lines in order to ensure that the money is being used in the production of results, not just to support education bureaucracy.

The biggest threat to our business climate is a future workforce that is ill-prepared to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated job market. If our students fall short of employer expectations, industries will simply leave Texas and go to a state that has a steady supply of educated young adults prepared to fill their expectations. Stakeholders must fight to heighten our education standards, otherwise Texas, and its students, will be left behind. Addressing our education system must be priority number one in 2010.

Bill Hammond is President and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, a broad-based, bipartisan organization representing more than 3,000 small and large businesses and 200 local chambers of commerce.

Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 1, 11 January 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For news, email, or call (512) 716-8611. For information about your subscription, call (512) 716-8600 or email

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