Sen. Bettencourt leads attack on educators voting

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) has fired the first public shot in what has been a heretofore behind-the-scenes effort to discourage educators from voting en masse in the upcoming elections.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bettencourt submitted a request for a legal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton regarding school districts that are actively promoting a culture of voting. In his request, Sen. Bettencourt raises grave concern over the prospect of school districts encouraging teachers, students, and staff to exercise their civic right and responsibility to vote.

In his letter, Sen. Bettencourt draws attention to the Educator’s Oath to Vote championed by the nonpartisan Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member. The oath is a means for Texas educators to demonstrate their commitment to voting in 2018 by participating in the March primary elections and November general election. The coalition has long advocated for members of the education community to develop a habit of voting by taking part in all elections.

“I am concerned about the legal implications of coercing government employees to ascribe an oath to a particular political viewpoint,” Bettencourt states in his request (emphasis added) to AG Paxton. Bettencourt offers no guidance as to which particular political viewpoint is opposed to supporting Texas school children.

Guidance offered through the Texas Educators Vote (TEV) website is nonpartisan and discourages campus leaders from advocating for any candidate, issue, or party. In promoting increased participation in the democratic process, TEV materials correctly point out embarrassingly low voter turnout in Texas. In a state of nearly 27 million people and 19 million eligible voters, just 34 percent of the state’s 15 million registered voters voted in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Only 14 percent voted in the 2014 primaries.

“In accepting a position of public trust as Texas educators, we are charged with the noble responsibility of demonstrating exemplary conduct – both to our colleagues and to our students,” the TEV Care Enough to Vote guide states. “We must model positive civic conduct by regularly casting our ballots in every election. It is our responsibility as educators to participate in elections. It is our responsibility to VOTE.”

Sen. Bettencourt’s letter further questions school districts’ legal ability to encourage teachers, staff, and eligible students to exercise their civic responsibility by voting, and whether school transportation can be used to offer assistance to those who may be otherwise unable to exercise their right to cast a ballot. Bettencourt argues that such support does not serve a public benefit.

“Rather, it is for only a certain few who are being asked to go to the polls by the school district to vote in a manner befitting their own self-interests, or those of particular organizations,” Bettencourt claims. Again, Bettencourt offers no further example of “self-interests” other than pointing to the oath to support Texas school children.

The letter asks Paxton to consider two legal questions:

  1. Does a school district providing or securing transportation for employees or students to and/or from polling places violate the Gift Clauses of the Texas Constitution?
  2. What legal constraints exist regarding a school district’s ability to spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising or communications designed to influence voters to vote for or against a particular measure or candidate?

It is important to note that opinions from the Texas attorney general are non-binding, non-enforceable, and neither indicate nor create actual law. Opinions are often used as the starting point for formal litigation.

Sen. Bettencourt’s action comes amid mounting efforts to quietly discourage educators from voting as a group. These efforts include numerous public information requests targeting teachers’ and administrators’ e-mails. Such tactics are often employed by political operatives to create a chilling effect.

As long as the constitutions of Texas and the United States guarantee the right to vote, the law will continue to be on the side of those fighting to exercise their civic responsibility. Like our other coalition partners, ATPE strongly supports the right to vote and encourages all registered voters in Texas to exercise that right in every election. Educators are no exception, and the dedicated education professionals who work in our state’s public schools should not be subjected to intimidation simply because of the fact that they have chosen to work in an institution of the government that some in power would prefer to dismantle. Those who are in fact opposed to the interests of more than 5.4 million Texas public schoolchildren clearly view educators as those children’s most formidable defenders. We anticipate more attacks on teachers similar to this as the March 6 primaries approach, and we will keep you updated as we find out new information and continue to stand up for educators’ voting rights.

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17 thoughts on “Sen. Bettencourt leads attack on educators voting

  1. Rita Long

    I will vote in every election and encourage every citizen to vote. It is my right and privilege to have a voice in our elections. Educators must use their votes to have a voice in what is happening in public education. Our students are our future. Education issues should be a top priority with every American.

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  2. Elaine Hutzelman

    It sounds to me as if Mr. Bettencourt is attempting to interefere with the right of teachers to vote in a democracy.. The candidate’s position on certain issues is what I consider, regardless of others’ opinions. It sounds as if he fears some sort of conspiracy on the part of some teachers.I will vote for the candidate whose views I share. TX already is almost at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to its treatment of teachers- retired and active-especially when it concerns healthcare and we all know that retired teachers haven’t had a raise in 13+ years.
    We are not treated like other state employees when it pertains to benefits. If a candidate offers to work on improving these inequities , no one or group will influence how I vote. I hope we all are able to think for ourselves and what is best for educators and the children as well.

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  3. Teri Marsh

    Wow! As a Texas public school teacher who resides in Senator Bettencourt’s district, I intend to redouble my efforts to encourage my fellow teachers to vote their conscience. I will certainly be voting mine…

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  4. Tami

    I may be in Texas anymore but I vote and encourage everyone to vote as a responsibility and an expression of the choices as a Citizen.
    I will not stop either.

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  5. Phoebe Collins

    I am shocked at the suggestion that having teachers take an oath to vote is questioned by any responsible, patriotic person, especially one who is given the responsibility to represent other Americans! Shame on you!! Show us the part of the oath that indicates political partisanship. Of course, you will not, because there is none!
    The reason you do not want to encourage teachers to vote, is that YOUR partisan self knows that education concerns are not truly ones that YOUR party shows any loyalty to when it comes to financial backing. Giving to the wealthy is more the concern of the so called “Christian” party of the right.

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  6. Phoebe Collins

    I am shocked at the suggestion that having teachers take an oath to vote is questioned by any responsible, patriotic person, especially one who is given the responsibility to represent other Americans! Shame on you!! Show us the part of the oath that indicates political partisanship. Of course, you will not, because there is none!
    The reason you do not want to encourage teachers to vote, is that YOUR partisan self knows that education concerns are not truly ones that YOUR party shows any loyalty to when it comes to financial backing. Giving to the wealthy is more the concern of the so called “Christian” party of the right.

    Reply
  7. Marilyn

    It seems strange that it is ok for churches to promote candidates running for election and tell their parishioners who to vote for—-but—–teachers aren’t supposed to even be ENCOURAGED to ainVOTE????? Give me a break!! Is this another trumpian kind of activity to curtail our ability to vote?

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  8. Johna Hamilton

    How is encouraging people to vote a violation of the educator’s oath? I wonder about Sen. Bettencourt’s motivations here. I will continue to encourage my fellow educators and students to exercise their right to vote. Provided transportation is a mere courtesy to help people get to a from the voting place. I don’t see any problem with that.

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  9. Bill M Brown

    Sounds like paranoia on Bettencourt’s behalf. We should praise all efforts to encourage voting considering the incredible apathy that is always present in this country. I think Bettencourt may be running scared after what happened in Alabama. As a retired teacher I’m always amazed by the number of educators that don’t exercise the right to vote but complain about wages, testing, reduction of retirement benefits, etc. It is quite obvious that the party that has been in power for so long does not have our interests in hand.

    Bill Brown

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  10. Vicki

    Someone sounds worried. Someone seems to be doing what he can to stop certain people from exercising their right to vote. During my 36 years in education I do not recall a leader telling me how to vote. I only recall encouragement to vote. …… I think in the past educators have been too meek to speak up for themselves. We are finally fed up to the point of doing something about how educators and education have been treated: always being shoved down the list, overlooked, and deprived of the attention needed. This deprivation not only hurts educators but also the students of this state. ….. I do not vote a party ticket. But, I vote for those who support what is most important to me. There is no politician out there who believes exactly the way I believe but I try to find those who are the closest to what is most important to me. …… My understanding (I may be wrong) is that Bettencourt has not been a friend of education in Texas. I think the man is worried.

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  11. Suzanne Sherrill

    This man wants to get hold of the pension fund for retired teachers. This will not be the only bill he will put forward…all to “ help” teachers. Wake up, teachers and vote this guy out of office. He is no friend to teachers.

    Reply
  12. Mary Tegtmeier

    Why does Bettencourt think only one party will garner votes? Is he suggesting that the GOP platform is against teachers and students and public ed? Note, like all career fields, all parties are represented including education. It is Texas law to conduct voter registration drives twice a year within the high schools, and Feb 5 is the deadline to vote in the March primary election. Double check the accuracy of your form to ensure compliance if you are doing a change of address or registering for the first time.

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  13. Pat McMicken

    I believe that Mr Bettencourt is ill informed and makes the assumption that educators are lacking in their ability to read and comprehend their rights and responsibilities regarding voting rights. I think his comments are disrespectful to educators level of intelligence. I also hope that while it is our rights as Americans to vote for whom we choose that we do all look past voting for a party and voting for who will help educators with our health insurance, pay raises, and protection of our retirement funds. Even if these issues do not affect you personally and you have other funds to draw from please remember the thousands of other educators who depend on these funds and services for their existence. Think “we” not “i” and do your research before you score that ballot. EDUCATORS have worked hard and deserve the benefits we receive.
    Pat McMicken

    Reply

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