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James Leininger

One more thing about vouchers

I’m going to enjoy this just a little bit more.

The Texas House of Representatives all but killed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s prized school choice bill Thursday, dealing the powerful Republican a major loss as he struggles to push his agenda through this year’s legislative session.

House members considering the state’s budget plan for the next two years voted overwhelmingly against diverting public education funds to private schools in the next biennium, registering their resistance to a so-called school voucher program and sending a message to Patrick that the bill has no chance this year of passage.

“The House stands strongly in support of our neighborhood schools and our public school teachers and that any scheme, such as a voucher or otherwise that attempts to siphon funds away from our public schools, is not something that would be acceptable in the House,” said Rep. Abel Herrero, a Robstown Democrat. He sponsored an amendment expressly blocking any school voucher program.

Lawmakers, in the midst of a day-long marathon session debating the state’s $218 billion spending plan for the next two years, voted 103-44 in favor of the amendment. The revision declared state money “may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for non-public education.”

The Republican-led House also rejected a follow-up amendment allowing the state to fund a smaller so-called school voucher program limited to children from poor families. The chamber voted that idea down 117-27, signalling that paring down Patrick’s prized Senate Bill 3 will not win it more votes.

“Good-bye SB 3,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said from his desk after the vote.

Assigned a low bill number to reflect its importance among Patrick’s priorities, SB 3 would create education savings accounts that parents can tap to pay for private school tuition, home school costs, tutoring or other expenses. The bill would also create a tax credit scholarship program that rewards businesses with a tax break for cutting checks to the state to fund scholarships that could send children to private school. The Senate passed that plan last week on a 18-13 vote.

[…]

With the bill unlikely to pass this year, advocates for vouchers and school choice will use the vote to drive their political activities in the 2018 elections by singling out lawmakers who voted against vouchers, said Randan Steinhauser, co-founder of Texans for Education Opportunity, which advocates for broader school choice.

“This isn’t surprising. The House has always been an obstacle, and there are many Republicans who are not representing their constituents and their school children,” said Steinhauser, who has already gone door-knocking in several Republican lawmakers’ districts to pressure them into voting for vouchers. “This is an opportunity for parents in the state of Texas to see who is standing in the way of educational opportunity.”

See here for the background. I’ll get back to this in a second, but in the meantime, as Depeche Mode advises, enjoy the silence.

A day after Texas House members pointedly approved an amendment to prohibit the use of public money for private schools, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Legislature’s most vocal proponent of so-called “school choice,” has yet to issue a public reaction.

[…]

Repeated calls and emails to Patrick’s office for comment went unanswered Thursday and Friday, although his staff has posted videos of him on Facebook talking about child abuse prevention initiatives and tuition set-asides since the House vote Thursday morning.

Patrick, who has rallied for years to pass a school choice program, assigned the proposal a low bill number to indicate its importance among his legislative priorities. Last week, he and Taylor, the Senate education chairman, pared down the bill to appease senators on the fence about the proposal, agreeing to exempt counties of less than 285,000 unless voters there petition for a voucher program.

Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and sponsor of the bill, did not respond to requests for comment Friday about whether he had been in contact with Patrick about how they would proceed on the measure.

House lawmakers long have said they have little interest in passing SB 3 and Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he did not want to force his committee to vote on the bill. The measure, which passed the Senate 18-13, is now awaiting action in the House.

A defeat on school vouchers likely would not hurt the lieutenant governor, said Jason Sabo, a longtime political observer and education lobbyist. Instead, he said, the House vote shows how politics are evolving away from party loyalty and toward regional and issue-based factions.

“It’s not about party. It’s about place,” he said. “If the largest employer in half the counties in your giant legislative district are public schools, you hate vouchers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You’re anti-voucher. ”

Who knew it was even possible to get Dan Patrick to shut up? And with all due respect to Jason Sabo, whose remarks may be a bit out of context here, this alignment on vouchers is nothing new. As this DMN article from January notes, people have been pushing for vouchers, thankfully without success, for going on thirty years. The Legislature came fairly close to fulfilling the wishes of people like GOP megadonor James Leininger, who was then the main force behind vouchers, during the 2005 session. Among other things, this led to the rise of the Texas Parent PAC and its shocking primary win over then-House Education Committee Chair Kent Gruesendorf. Patrick has taken up the banner in the two sessions since he became Lite Guv, but the fight long predates him.

And this is why Randan Steinhauser is wrong. At this point, there have been many elections, mostly Republican primaries, in which public education has been a big issue. Even with the likes of Leininger and then-Speaker Tom Craddick and now Dan Patrick behind them, voucher proponents have basically gained no ground, and aren’t anywhere close to a majority in the House. Hell, we’re at a point where they had to rebrand themselves, because “vouchers” has become a toxic label, and resort to a third-rate astroturfing campaign for their lobbying. Voucher supporters are the definition of a narrow interest group seeking to carve out an advantage for themselves. I’m not going to say they’ll never succeed, because politics doesn’t work like that, but I see no evidence that they are gaining public acceptance. They got the fate that they, and Dan Patrick, deserved.

Abbott and CPRIT

From the Things Greg Abbott Should Have Been Doing Instead Of Filing All Those Lawsuits Against The Obama Administration, But Didn’t Do department.

Still not Greg Abbott

In the more than four years he served on the state cancer agency’s governing board, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott exercised no oversight as the agency made misstep after misstep in awarding tens of millions of dollars to commercial interests.

The state’s top lawyer and watchdog instead appointed one of his deputies, who missed about a third of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Oversight Committee meetings, and, by all accounts, was not much of a presence in the agency’s questionable decision-making.

“It turns out that Abbott sitting on the oversight board was a green light rather than a caution sign,” wrote Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political action committee. “Businesses backed by Abbott contributors – many of whom are partisan Republicans – have received large grants and contracts from CPRIT without fear of any oversight at all.”

The attorney general’s minimalist scrutiny of the cancer institute did not draw much attention when the Legislature lit into the agency during the regular session, but now that he is running for governor it is becoming a significant campaign issue.

“It is surprising to me that someone who is the attorney general would not attend board meetings of a fund that involves $3 billion in taxpayer dollars,” said Tom Pauken, who is vying with Abbott for the nomination for governor in next spring’s Republican primary.

Abbott’s role at the cancer agency has raised additional questions because of the investigation his office is conducting into the agency’s scandals. Critics question how he can objectively investigate alleged conflicts of interest and favoritism at the agency after his office did nothing to stop it. They also ask how he can look into possible impropriety involving donors that made contributions to the agency and later received grants when some of those donors also have given to Abbott and figure to be tapped again as his gubernatorial campaign kicks into gear.

[…]

A review of Abbott’s correspondence while his office was on the oversight board, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, found nothing expressing concern about the agency.

“It’s nice to talk about suing Obama all of the time, but the attorney general has other duties,” Pauken said. “When there’s so much taxpayer money on the table, it is surprising that the attorney general would be asleep at the switch.”

[Abbott’s chief communications officer Jerry] Strickland dismissed criticism of the office’s lack of oversight as political.

“Given the failure of CPRIT staff to follow procedure and properly inform the Oversight Committee, it would have been impossible for any designee to fully brief the attorney general about what was happening because they were left in the dark about critical decisions and mistakes along the way,” Strickland wrote. “Presumably, that’s also why none of the oversight committee members appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor or the Speaker raised issues about the grants. Despite their varied experiences and expertise, they simply were not provided with information that would have raised red flags.”

That has not stopped critics from noting that some of the agency’s most questionable grants went to companies affiliated with some of Abbott’s major donors.

Since 2001, James Leininger has donated $289,000 to Abbott, campaign finance records show, and Peter O’Donnell has contributed $130,000 during the same time period. Some political activists question these donations, noting that Leininger’s company, Caliber Biotherapuetics, received $12 million from the cancer agency for a scientific proposal despite receiving low scores from reviewers; O’Donnell invested in Peloton, whose $11 million award under­went no institutional review whatsoever.

Among Abbott’s critics is Glenn Smith, director of the liberal Progress Texas PAC, which filed a complaint against the cancer agency with prosecutors in Austin. Noting Abbott never attended a meeting, Smith asked, “Why would he? The scandal-plagued agency was funneling millions to Abbott’s contributors. From Abbott’s point of view the corruption was going swimmingly.”

There’s no dispute that Abbott was completely hands-off as a member of the CPRIT oversight board, that the person he picked as his proxy was lax about attending meetings, or that Abbott’s office never found any of the wrongdoing that was going on. His defense is that 1) he was no more compromised or clueless than any of the other board members, and 2) it’s all politics anyway. Good luck with that first argument is all I can say about that. If you’re trying to abet the case that we need real change in our state leadership and not just a shuffling of the deck, you’re doing fine. As for the complaint that it’s all politics, welcome to the big leagues. I’ve no doubt that politics is a part of this – the Lone Star Project was the originator of much of the information in this story – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it. If you don’t have a substantive rebuttal to the charges then your accusation about politics will sound like you’re the one playing politics. Abbott’s not used to being in the spotlight, or to being scrutinized this closely. Time to raise your game, dude.

Blast from the past, RRC edition

TPJ tells me something I didn’t know about Republican candidate for Railroad Commissioner David “My party is my qualification” Porter.

Porter has been the treasurer of the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC) since 2006. That’s when school-voucher activist James Leininger used Porter’s PAC as a $2 million vehicle to attack the GOP incumbents who had opposed Leininger’s agenda. Most incumbents survived the Leininger-funded primary challenges.

Created by GOP consultant Jeff Norwood, GOP activist Bill Crocker and Porter, the now-dormant TRLCC PAC may provide Texas’ best-documented case of a candidacy operating as an almost wholly owned subsidiary of a single PAC, consultant and donor.

James Leininger – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. Turns out he’s been laying low this cycle, for whatever the reason, not that Republicans have missed his funding. All I know is that I’ve seen several overviews of this race, and that’s the first time I’d heard about the Leininger connection. As if I needed another reason to vote for Jeff Weems. Go read it and see for yourself.