Interesting quote: "Is there room for principle in today’s GOP?
by William Lutz / Special to East Texas Review
When I first started following Texas politics closely, back in 1991 as a college student, the Republican Party stood for something — lower taxes, property rights, moral values, honest representation, accountable government.
Sure, some lawmakers were better than others, but the party’s elected officials were free to vote their consciences and their districts.
When I came to work for LSR a few years later, the party had been Roved.
Elected officials were no longer free to do what they thought was best. Some disagreement was tolerated behind closed doors, but in public the Rove machine encouraged GOP elected officials to act like mindless Bush automatons. Violators were dealt with harshly. The machine’s priorities were the presidential parade first, power politics second, and principle — at best — a distant third.
Things are different now. Karl Rove has left the world of political consulting. Most conservatives nationally have finally recognized his machine for what it is — or was. Many of his key lieutenants, such as Al Gonzales, have had to leave public service under a cloud of scandal.
Looking at the state GOP right now, I have one question: Is there room once more for principle in the Texas Republican party?
Education provides perhaps the best example of what Rove did to the Texas GOP. Rove knew voters in swing states wanted to see a president who “cared” about education and could produce results. But actually improving the public schools measurably is a complex process that takes time and requires challenging established special interests that have government-funded lobbyists and a loud public relations machine.
So Rove created an illusion.
Rove and Commissioner of Education Mike Moses made sure the new curriculum standards were vague, repetitive, and difficult to measure. Rove liked fuzzy standards, because if we had high ones students wouldn’t measure up, and that would hurt the George W. Bush presidential machine. The education community likes low standards, because it’s easier to get more taxes out of the public when they think the system does a good job.
Once vague standards were in place, Rove and Moses could ensure that the state’s test — the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) was ridiculously easy. That ensured large numbers of students would pass the test, which Rove, his allies in the Legislature, and his allies in Washington, D.C., touted as “the Texas miracle.”
Of course, Texas still has a problem with dropout rates and the passing rate on college entrance exams, but Rove could spin that into oblivion.
These policies put Rove on a collision course with the real reformers in Texas education — conservative members of the State Board of Education (SBOE). One of them, Richard Neill, helped expose what a joke the TAAS was. After the cat got out of the bag, Moses and Rove agreed to changes — that took effect after Bush had left the governor’s mansion.
Rove tried everything to shut these folks down. He got major donors to make phone calls. SBOE conservatives were lampooned in the press. Conservative Bob Offutt was the target of several unfair and mean-sprited mailers sent by a shady outfit called Americans for Job Security — which does not disclose the identity of its donors — after Offutt went to New Hampshire to tell the truth about the Bush machine.
Fortunately for Texas, the State Board of Education still has many conservatives, working hard to improve Texas public schools. In fact, right now, they are leading the charge to undo Rove’s damage and create English standards that actually work for Texans — standards based on phonics and grammar, not spin and public relations.
The bad news for Rove is, the rest of the country finally caught on to his act. Americans don’t want a party that won’t cut spending, supports illegal immigration, is obsessed with spin, panders to special interests, and is devoid of principle.
Rove justified his support for illegal immigration, claiming it would help the party appeal to Hispanics and prosper in the face of changing demographics.
But what’s really going on here is many of the businesses that fund the Bush political machine make money off cheap, exploitable illegal labor.
The real problem Texas Republicans face is much more immediate than the long-term demographic changes painstakingly chronicled in the press. Republicans are in danger of losing the confidence of the party’s middle class and rural base.
Look where Republicans lost Texas House seats last year — North Dallas, Southwest and Northwest Austin, Arlington, West Houston. They lost in the suburbs.
Suburban voters want a party that addresses their concerns — a party that is honest and ethical and puts public service above spin, fundraising, and power politics.
There are two types of statewide power players in today’s GOP — those who see a place for principle and those who don’t.
But it’s also true that some of the rising stars in the GOP really do want to put public service first.
The GOP’s survival may well depend on the top brass’ letting these new stars shine, and leaving Rove’s brand of politics in the past, where it belongs.