It makes sense that he would.
The group attempting to get a 1-cent tax hike on the November ballot to bolster early childhood education programs got a hearty endorsement from Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia on Wednesday, and announced it had cleared the first major hurdle in putting its initiative to voters this fall.
James Calaway, chairman of the so-called Early to Rise campaign, said the group – using volunteer and also paid canvassers, according to its campaign finance report – has collected more than 140,000 signatures on its petition, nearly twice the 78,000 signatures it says it needs to force County Judge Ed Emmett to place the initiative on the ballot. The group will turn the petition in early next week, and promised that a sufficient number of the signatures will be valid as they are from registered voters.
Calaway made the announcement on Wednesday across the street from the main county jail at 1200 Baker Street, where the county’s top lawman hosted a news conference to endorse the program, saying it would help keep kids out of trouble with his deputies and is “far cheaper” than incarceration.
“This is truly an issue of investing now,” Garcia said.
The 1-cent tax hike, which would be levied by the Harris County Department of Education and administered by the private non-profit School Readiness Corporation, would generate $25 million a year for teacher training, school supplies and other supplements at low-performing childcare centers in the county serving children up to age 5.
While several members of the Department of Education board of trustees said recently they would not support the plan unless they are able to have more immediate oversight – including appointing a member to the School Readiness Corporation board – Calaway said the group is working up a “multi-page agreement” with the agency and expects it to endorse the plan.
See here, here, and here for the background. I’m glad to see that Early To Rise is working out an agreement with the HCDE on oversight, because that was the biggest concern I had with this. HCDE should have some direct responsibility here. I look forward to seeing what that agreement has to say.
A press release announcing the Sheriff’s endorsement is here. The reason why I say that it makes sense for Sheriff Garcia to endorse this can be summed up in the following comment he made in that release:
“This is truly an issue of pay me now, or pay me later. We either need to pay for better early childhood education now, or we will end up paying for more inmates later, we either help our youngsters succeed when they’re 4 or we have to pay for the consequences when they’re 24”.
Surely no reasonable person disputes that. The main dispute over this campaign has been an existential one of process.
The third hurdle may not be so easy to clear, though: County Judge Emmett is still saying he thinks the law dictating the petition process does not apply, and has asked for opinions from the county attorney’s office and the state attorney general.
“I’ve said from the beginning I don’t think this law is really applicable,” Emmett said this week. “I’ve always assumed they’re going to turn in signatures.”
On Monday, Emmett requested an opinion on the petition from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He asked if the old law under which the petition was devised is still in effect and, if so, whether Emmett has the authority to reject the petition if it doesn’t “substantially follow” the language of the statute. Of course, Emmett has already decided that the petition’s language doesn’t follow the statute closely enough.
There’s only one problem with Emmett’s request. As county judge, he is not one of the officials authorized by Texas statute to request an opinion from the attorney general.
A technicality? Yes. But shouldn’t a guy holding others accountable to the sometimes inane technicalities of Texas law be holding himself to the same standard?
Jonathan Day, former Houston city attorney and an Early to Rise board member, said he doesn’t understand Emmett’s focus on hyper-technical aspects of the petition.
“I’m just perplexed that he filed the request himself,” Day said. “I think the statute is very straightforward. It doesn’t require a law degree to determine that he’s not an official who under the law is authorized to ask for an opinion.”
Day maintained that the petition is on firm legal ground and called Emmett’s nit-picking arguments “illogical.”
I’m nowhere near qualified to arbitrate this one, so go read Falkenberg’s column and see what you think. I don’t have a big problem with Judge Emmett asking for the AG’s opinion, even if he’s technically not supposed to, but if he really is technically not supposed to then I fully expect that the AG will reply by telling him to follow the rules as written. That is the “conservative” thing to do, right? Be that as it may, I fully expect this to wind up in court one way or another, and I won’t be surprised if the issue surfaces again in 2015 when the Lege reconvenes and another bill to abolish the HCDE gets filed. As Judge Emmett is a supporter of that effort, that could be an issue in his re-election campaign as well. We’ll see what happens with this election first.