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March 13th, 2014:

Oh, Buc-ee’s

Ugh.

Make your own beaver joke

Convenience-store chain Buc-ee’s Ltd. has garnered lots of attention for its clean restrooms. But this week, it’s the owners’ endorsement of tea party favorite Dan Patrick, who faces incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, that’s drawn the spotlight.

Congressman Joaquin Castro has bashed Buc-ee’s owners over the endorsement and Monday called for a boycott of the stores.

In a tweet, the San Antonio Democrat said he wouldn’t gas up at Buc-ee’s “since they support a fear-mongering immigrant basher.”

Castro’s brother, Mayor Julián Castro, is expected to debate immigration reform with Patrick in April after the two traded barbs though social media.

But any antipathy toward Buc-ee’s puts its critics at odds with legions of Buc-ee’s fans.

They say they love the stores’ reasonable gas prices, squeaky-clean restrooms, foods from jerky to Beaver Nuggets and shelves of Texas kitsch.

[…]

Lake Jackson-based Buc-ee’s was founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek.

The company operates 28 stores, mostly in Southeast and Central Texas, its website says. More are planned.

Buc-ee’s Aplin and Wasek didn’t return phone calls seeking comment about the company’s long-range expansion plans or their political stance.

Campaign finance reports show the two have donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates over the past two decades, including a combined $11,100 to Gov. Rick Perry and $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 21.

However, reports did not reflect a donation to Patrick, likely because candidates have not filed updated reports since the March 4 primary election.

Buc-ee’s general counsel Jeff Nadalo said in an email that Aplin and Wasek have contributed to Patrick’s campaign, but “as a company, Buc-ee’s doesn’t support political candidates” and the company’s doors “are open 24/7 to everyone.”

Attorney Nadalo reiterated that distinction between the owners (Buc-ee’s is not a publicly traded company) and the company to Bud Kennedy. As Stace notes, that would make them an exception to the “corporations are people, my friend” mantra. Well, they’re free to support the candidates of their choice, and other people are free to decide what that means to them. I think you’re on solid ground if you decide you’ll just use their famous bathrooms but not spend any money there. I must note there is some nuance in all this:

In his talk in Terrell, Aplin said Buc-ee’s normally pays 40 percent to 45 percent above the area’s industry average for similar jobs.

A cashier in Terrell will start at $11 to $11.50 an hour, he said. For the Texas City store, the company is hiring cashiers, food-service workers and maintenance workers at pay that ranges from $11 to $14 an hour, its website states. When Buc-ee’s opened a 67,000-square-foot store in New Braunfels in 2012, it was a plus for that community’s economy, a local official said.

“There is no doubt that it makes a difference, but being able to quantify that is difficult,” said Rusty Brockman, director of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “But I can quantify it in this way: They brought a great name and a destination to New Braunfels — a business that is clean, progressive and run by a true entrepreneur. And they brought 225 jobs paying more than $12 an hour.”

It would be easier to demonize them if they treated their employees like dirt. And if you’re not feeling conflicted now, consider this:

Buc-ee’s co-owner Arch “Beaver” Aplin gave $12,000 to Democrat Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

[…]

Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s, told Lone Star Q on Wednesday he isn’t sure why Aplin, who lives in Lake Jackson, where Buc-ee’s is headquartered, would contribute money to Obama — who has become public enemy No. 1 for Patrick and other Texas Republicans.

“Your guess would be as good as mine,” Nadalo said. “I know the media is portraying them [the Buc-ee’s owners] as staunch Republicans, but I couldn’t even tell you their political affiliation. I think they’re just smart business guys.”

[…]

Likewise, people have a right not to spend money at Buc-ee’s, but Nadalo said when it comes to LGBT issues, the company is supportive. For example, he said some customers recently complained about a transgender employee at the company’s Cypress location.

“I think the LGBT community would be pleased to hear that despite protests from customers, Buc-ee’s has treated her just like we would any other employee,” Nadalo said. “We’ve embraced her into our family. We did not fall prey to that rhetoric. The corporate social philosophy of the company has clearly been driven in a direction which is conducive to the LGBT objective.”

However, Nadalo confirmed the company doesn’t have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. He said the company’s current policy mirrors federal law, but added he’d be willing to take up the matter with the human resources department.

“I would certainly be happy to bring it to their attention that we’re perhaps not on paper espousing the objectives that some of our customers would like to see,” Nadalo said.

Asked about domestic partner benefits, Nadalo said the company doesn’t currently offer health insurance to employees, but plans to begin doing so soon.

“If we extend coverage to straight partners, we would extend it to gay partners,” he said.

They’ll have to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week under the Affordable Care Act, right? They don’t have to offer domestic partner benefits, but I hope they do, and I hope they follow through as Nadalo expects.

Anyway. I’m in the vicinity of a Buc-ee’s maybe twice a year, so any behavioral changes I make are not going to be noticed by anyone. We’ll probably still take potty breaks there, because the kids like the place. Let’s just say my feelings about the franchise are a lot more complicated now. Campos and Texas Leftist have more.

More Obamacare enrollments, still lots more needed

That’s pretty much the story.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas enrollment in the online insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act rose steadily in February but did not meet expectations set forth by the Obama administration, according to figures that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released Tuesday.

“As more Americans learn just how affordable marketplace insurance can be, more are signing up to get covered,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a call announcing the enrollment data. “We expect that even more will sign up as we approach the March 31 deadline.”

The data is the last to be released by HHS before open enrollment closes on March 31, offering a glimpse at the daunting task facing advocacy groups as they make their final push to sign people up for health coverage.

Texas ranked third behind California and Florida in total enrollments since the launch of healthcare.gov on Oct. 1. As of March 1, 295,000 Texans had selected a coverage plan in the federal marketplace, up from 207,500 the month before.

The number represents a small fraction of the uninsured in Texas, the state with the highest percentage of people without health coverage nationwide. In 2012, more than 6 million Texans, about 24 percent of the population, lacked health insurance, according to U.S. census data.

“That is very low,” said Arlene Wohlgemuth, director of the Center for Health Care Policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “If the goal is to get uninsured people onto the exchange, they are such a long way from doing that.”

Wohlgemuth, of course, was the author of the bill in the 2003 Lege that initiated that disastrous privatization of HHSC, and her fingerprints were all over the bill that cut however many hundreds of thousands of kids off CHIP that same year. In other words, she’s a charter member of the Go Ahead And Die caucus, and as such has Cheney-levels of credibility on anything related to health care.

Be that as it may, the numbers are what they are. We’d like them to be higher, but there’s still time, and millions of people are getting covered regardless of what else happens. The good news is that there will be another open enrollment period in October for next year, and there shouldn’t be any technical problems like there were this time. It may take longer than it should have, but we’ll get there. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold.

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Last stand against school closures

Last chance, too.

Community activists called Tuesday for HISD to spare two schools from closure in a last-ditch effort that included filing a federal civil-rights complaint alleging racial discrimination.

Charles X. White, president of the city’s South Park Super Neighborhood group, said he had asked federal authorities to investigate HISD’s proposal to close schools in mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Houston school board is set to vote Thursday on Superintendent Terry Grier’s scaled-back proposal to close Jones High School in the South Park neighborhood and Dodson Elementary near downtown. He first proposed closing five small schools.

[…]

Grier has said the Jones and Dodson buildings are needed to house students from other campuses being rebuilt under the district’s 2012 vote-approved bond issue.

After the new schools are built, Grier said, Jones could be reopened as a vocational school or one for gifted students. Dodson could be turned into a middle school with a specialized program.

Trustee Paula Harris, whose district includes Jones, said at a board meeting Monday that she supported reopening Jones with a new theme but called for it to happen next year – not years after using the space during rebuilding.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. A spokesperson for the Office of Civil Rights confirmed there was a complaint filed with them, but I’m sure we won’t hear anything further on that until some action is taken. A Chron op-ed from earlier in the week lays out a pretty good case against the district taking steps to close Jones and Dodson at this time:

In her Sunday op-ed “Low-performing schools drag down kids and districts” (Page B9), trustee Anna Eastman said HISD should close struggling schools and re-open them as charter/magnet schools. More specialty schools do not necessarily mean more access for children most in need. When HISD closed Third Ward’s Ryan Middle School last year and re-opened it as a magnet school, only 11 percent of the enrollment included neighborhood children.

Moreover, contrary to common expectations, research on 60 school districts shows that student performance actually declines following school closures. HISD has closed 19 schools since 2010, sending many students from exemplary to lower-performing schools. We know of no parent who would want that.

Grier defended the closure proposal with a November 2013 HISD report implying these schools have seen long-term enrollment declines. However, this ignores the district’s own research showing that enrollment changed less than 3 percent over the past 10 years at each elementary school targeted for closure – schools that met state standards every year.

Enrollment declines at Jones are due in part to HISD’s removal of its Vanguard “gifted” program and a revolving door of leadership. And when the expensive and controversial Apollo program was imposed on Jones – with its fixation on excessive test prep – families fled. Parents don’t want the school to close; they want HISD to clean up its mess and invest in quality programming.

As community opposition has grown, officials now say Jones and Dodson are needed as “swing space” – temporary buildings for schools during a rebuild. HISD policy does not authorize school closures for this purpose.

Here’s the Anna Eastman op-ed they reference. At this point, while HISD may have a good demographic argument for pursuing these closures, they seem to be weak on procedure and on community engagement about them. I’d like to see more done to address those issues before any further action is taken. There will be a rally by anti-closure forces outside the Hattie Mae White building tomorrow at 1:30 – see beneath the fold for details.

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Texas blog roundup for the week of March 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance is always springing forward as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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