Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Parent PAC strikes back

by John Young--Waco Tribune Herald
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Diane Trautman is running for the statehouse. By appearances, Joe Crabb couldn't care less.

No, Crabb isn’t some voter who can't get his head off of "Dancing with the Stars." He's the incumbent.

I say "by appearances," because observers in his district say Crabb, R-Atascocita, hasn’t made many.

By contrast, Trautman, a career educator, has an army knocking on doors in the Houston-area district.

Why is she campaigning hard and he hardly campaigning? It’s probably because the seven-term Republican has one of those districts that is as gift-wrapped for his purposes like candied fruit. He won last time with nearly 70 percent of the vote. Yet now many observers consider Crabb's district in play.

Why? Because of a strong challenger, enthusiastic volunteers and a new creature called the Texas Parent PAC.

Two years ago, after beating heads against a wall of big campaign contributions, a group of PTA spouses, educators and others who support public schools decided to fight smart. The Parent PAC does what other PACs do. It seeks like-minded candidates and offers them resources and the weight of assembled interests.

The competition is stiff. James Leininger, the second-biggest political donor in Texas, has donated millions of dollars to candidates. Gov. Rick Perry tops the list. Leininger’s single-issue fixation: to siphon school dollars into vouchers to private and church schools.

Right out of the box this March in the primary, the Parent PAC had a huge smackdown with Leininger when he targeted incumbents like Republicans Tommy Merritt of Longview, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Delwin Jones of Lubbock. They've refused to play along with GOP leadership’s designs on school vouchers.

At the same time, the Parent PAC assisted in one of the biggest political upsets in recent years when Arlington educator Diane Patrick unseated state Rep. Kent Grusendorf, the GOP point man on all things educational.

Merritt, Geren and Jones survived the high-dollar hit job on them. Combined with the defeat of Grusendorf, it was a resounding opening salvo for Parent PAC.

This election, Parent PAC has endorsed a large slate of candidates — split evenly between Republicans and Democrats (

Contributions already are projected to lift it to within the state’s top 25 PACs. Though not on a par, it at least shares the rarefied air enjoyed by PACs like the Texas Medical Association, Texas Realtors and home builders.

Parent PAC board chairwoman Carolyn Boyle said funding from her organization helps with TV spots, campaign consultants, direct mail and live phone banks."

"But we’re not a corporate PAC that just writes a check," said Boyle, "We're providing people power."

That sounds suspiciously like the democratic process.

That vibrant process has been bled to ghoulish gray by big-dollar bidders and partisan machinations like redistricting.

Joe Crabb was the go-to man in the Texas House when Tom DeLay gave Perry and worker bees orders to redraw congressional districts a second time in a decade. Heck, he ought to be set for life. Why campaign?

Actually, he ought to because Trautman is the real deal — a former teacher and principal who most recently taught future administrators at Stephen F. Austin.

One of her major issues is how overemphasis on testing bleeds education of its vitality.

"I got the feeling that before we could make a difference for our children, we had to make a difference in Austin," she said by cell phone from an early voting location.

She may not win for all of the candied fruit stored up for the incumbent. But with the help of a newborn PAC, she will have reminded even him that people power still works.

John Young's column appears Thursday, Sunday and occasionally Tuesday. E-mail:

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