THE OFFICE – I am looking at my choice, but first let’s talk about yours. You wake up in the middle of the night to discover that your house (or apartment, tent, hovel) is on fire. You move your family, pets and pot plants safely to the front yard, where all your neighbors can see what you look like in jockey shorts and a bathrobe. You hear the sirens, help is on the way, but there is still time to run in the house and retrieve a single item. What would it be? Your grandfather’s portrait, the stamp collection, the Glock Long Slide requested by your student kid who is mad at her chemistry prof?
It’s all a matter of what you value in descending order, a matter of priorities. Right now our priorities are being skewered. We start with the state (lower case) of Texas. My first priority would be to create a monarchy with me as king, complete with a throne. This is not a power grab but a return to normalcy. Do you really think Gov. Greg Abbott and Lite Gov. Dan Patrick feel as we do about what’s important to us? How about education? Texas is now ranked 43rd in the nation, falling from 39th last year, in the annual “Quality Counts” report from a national education publication, Education Week. Another new national study says Texas has the lowest education standards in the nation — giving the state a D+. Maybe this explains former Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s famous observation: “Rarely is the question been asked: Is our children learning?” Yet our state leaders spend more time dealing with school restrooms than with school academics.
Texas’ leaders demand that Washington stay out of our business, especially when it comes to voter ID (the most restrictive in the nation), pollution and abortions (the most restrictive in the nation). At the same time Patrick sees no hypocrisy in meddling in others’ business. He told the Fort Worth ISD to fire its superintendent for obeying a federal decree on transgender bathrooms. He stepped into Houston’s referendum on an equal rights referendum. He’s always writing hot letters, given speeches and putting his nose in local affairs while he is the Number 2 official in a state that ranks 34th among the 50 in health care, 21st in public school systems, we are 36th in “Best States” and 30th in “Bike Friendly States.”
The Houston School Board presides over a district that includes Kashmere High. The Texas Education Commission has had to take control of Kashmere after it failed to meet the state’s academic standards for seven straight years. The HISD board is constantly claiming it needs more funds. But the board says it is spending $1.2 million (we may never know the final amount) to change the names of eight schools named for Confederate leaders, or even privates. The changes include (after 90 years!) that of Sidney Lanier, a poet, author, composer and, oddly enough, a school teacher. Fourteen schools, a college, other structures and two lakes are named for him. Lanier’s crime is that, as a young man during the Civil War, he served aboard a British blockade runner and was captured by a Union warship, thrown in prison where he contacted tuberculosis, and never recovered.
There goes “Tom Sawyer,” because Mark Twain served in the Marion Rangers, Confederate Army, for two weeks. We have an entire Texas university named after Confederate Gen. Sul Ross. UT-Austin was all upset because some Rebs’ statues are on campus. George Littlefield, the largest single donor to UT, (Littlefield this and Littlefield that) was an officer in the CSA. How much time and energy have been spent on allowing guns in university classrooms, dorms and frat beer parties? Triggeronometry 101. But does anyone care that U.S. News just ranked Longhorn U. as Number 56 (down from 52) among the best 240 U.S. colleges?
As attorney general, Gov. Abbott and his successor, Ken Paxton (himself facing both civil and criminal charges), continue to fight abortion rights and spend millions of our tax dollars in doing so. These publicity stunts generated this article in a recent New York Times: “Something terrible has happened to pregnant women in Texas: their mortality rate has doubled in recent years, and is now comparable to rates in places like Russia or Ukraine. Although researchers into this disaster are careful to say that it can’t be attributed to any one cause, the death surge does coincide with the state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood, which led to the closing of many clinics.”
Then there are redistricting and voter fraud. Abbott and now Paxton have been spending millions in an unsuccessful attempt to uphold our voter ID laws. Why? Says Abbott: “The fact is voter fraud is rampant.” Not quite. In 10 years’ worth of elections in Texas at all levels from school board to governor there have been fewer than two fraud convictions a year. We execute more than that. Couldn’t our money be better spent on, for instance, Texas women’s health? There’s more: From 2000 to 2014, per the Texas Secretary of State’s online record, about 72 million ballots were cast in Texas, and that’s not even counting municipal and other local-only elections. An analysis made by a Rutgers University political science professor, Lorraine Minnite, found during that time, there were three – yes, THREE! — credible allegations of fraud in Texas elections.
Actually, our problem may not be too many but too few voters. In the last midterm elections, voter turnout in Texas was just 28.5 percent of those eligible to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. In last spring’s party primaries, Texas had the second lowest voting-age participation rate, behind Louisiana. It would seem we only want to keep out certain voters, if you get my drift.
Now help me get my Number 1 priority out of my house before it burns. Thrones are heavy.
Ashby’s priorities are firstname.lastname@example.org