ATPE Executive Director Dr. Shannon Holmes moderated a panel discussion on teacher compensation Thursday at a conference for the Texas Association of Midsize Schools (TAMS). The discussion included state Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), who is a member of the Texas House Public Education Committee, and Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who filed a high-profile teacher compensation bill in 2017 during the 85th Texas Legislature.
Both representatives agreed about the need to increase teacher compensation, which has become a major topic of discussion heading into the 86th Texas Legislature. Some of the most serious plans proposed thus far have featured differentiated pay, in which top-performing teachers are eligible for higher paychecks. Rep. VanDeaver noted that the major concern with these plans revolves around how top-performing teachers are identified. ATPE has consistently warned that student test scores should not be the primary metric for this purpose.
Rep. Gary VanDeaver, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Rep. Travis Clardy at the TAMS conference on Dec. 6, 2018
Rep. Clardy acknowledged that a critical part of any raise this session will be identifying state funding for that purpose. Legislation addressing teacher pay during the 2017 special session did not include state funding and instead asked districts to pay for raises out of their own pockets, which effectively tabled the discussion.
The conference featured other panels related to public education, including one featuring state Reps. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Ken King (R-Canadian), both members of the House Public Education Committee, as well as State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). All three serve on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which was created in part by the failure of a House-sponsored school finance reform bill last session. Rep. Bernal vowed that if the commission fails to come up with a real plan to reform the finance system before the new session begins, the House will come up with its own plan and challenge the Senate to pass it.
Thursday’s event furthered underscored the extent to which the focus will be on public education in the upcoming legislative session. Many lawmakers who have seemed uninterested in addressing school finance in the past are now championing reform efforts. Rep. King and others suggested Thursday that the results of the most recent election sent a strong message that Texas voters want legislators who will advance the interests of public education.
During the final interim meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers discussed mandate relief and innovation, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program, and educator misconduct. Members of a working group of policy stakeholders, which included ATPE, agreed to send 20 recommendations to be considered during the 86th legislative session next year. ATPE member Aletha Williams testified on the need for mentors in the teaching profession in order to help retain employees. The committee also discussed implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 7, an educator misconduct bill passed last session, and discussed the possibility of creating a “Do Not Hire Registry” for educators who have previously engaged in misconduct. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provides more information in this blog post.
School finance commission working group meeting, Nov. 27, 2018.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday to finalize its recommendations before they’re presented to the full commission. The group debated the merits of recapture, often referred to more commonly as “Robin Hood,” the mechanism by which the state redistributes funds from property-rich districts to property-poor districts. While Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who chairs the group, expressed his desire to do away with recapture, others such as Rep. Diego Bernal (D -San Antonio) and Rep. Ken King (R – Canadian) questioned how equity could be preserved without the program or how Texas could implement a “sharing” system among recaptured funds. Ultimately the working group voted to advance the governor’s tax cap plan, which would increase funding for schools that improve outcomes and cap property tax growth at 2.5 percent, as well as Bettencourt’s recapture “sharing” plan to the full commission.
The full commission is meeting today and will meet at least twice more in December to receive recommendations from the working groups and finalize its report to the legislature. A more detailed account of Tuesday’s meeting can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
According to data from the Texas Secretary of State, more than 7 million registered voters in the state did not participate in the midterm elections earlier this month. Members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, including ATPE, are working to change that.The group aims to create a culture of voting in schools and communities and demonstrate how rewarding and easy it can be to for ordinary people to perform their civic duty. You can help their efforts by participating in this voter registration survey that asks educators to share details on their involvement in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and, specifically, efforts to help eligible students become registered to vote. The survey provides information to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which creates a map of high schools where students are registered to vote. Submissions must be completed by 5 pm on Friday, December 7.
ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann and GR Director Jennifer Mitchell met with visiting education experts from Armenia on Nov. 30, 2019, at the ATPE state office.
Members of the ATPE lobby team had the privilege of meeting today with a delegation from Armenia to discuss education issues, including school funding, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and the role of educator associations in advancing the education profession.
The group is visiting the United States as part of the U.S. State Department’s Visitor Leadership Program, which fosters citizen-to-citizen diplomacy for emerging leaders and coordinates opportunities for cross-cultural sharing between dignitaries from over 90 countries. The program was formed shortly after WWII and boasts such famous alumni as Tony Blair, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, Nicolas Sarkozy, Indira Gandhi, and others.
During their visit to Texas, the education experts from Armenia also met with representatives of the Texas Education Agency and visited local schools. Other cities they will visit during their trip to the U.S. include San Antonio, plus Pensacola, Florida, Cleveland, Ohio, Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Representing ATPE during today’s meeting were Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell and lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann.
There will be no “Week in Review” post this week, but we’ll be back next week with updates on ATPE’s preparations for the 86th legislative session. On behalf of the entire ATPE Governmental Relations team, we wish you and your families a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday!
On Wednesday, the board voted to increase its distribution from the Public School Fund to 2.9%. This action takes place after a dispute earlier this year between the SBOE and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB). Both the SBOE and the SLB manage investment portfolios that fund public education, but an unusual move by the SLB to bypass the SBOE and put funding directly into the Available School Fund (ASF) means that the SBOE will have less money to support classrooms directly.
Other topics of discussion this week included the streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, the board’s final discussion on the Long Range Plan (LRP) for public education, and the SBOE’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session in 2019.
The Board also heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner addressed concerns that the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) seeks less state funding than in previous years, telling the board the agency is simply following the funding formulas established by the legislature.
During the Board’s discussion with Commissioner Morath, members also requested updates on issues such as Senate Bill (SB) 1882, a bill passed during the 85th legislative session that allows public school districts to partner with privately-run charter schools; the recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the U.S. Department of Education’s punitive actions against Texas for underfunding special education programs; and transparency regarding the instructional materials portal launched in 2017.
In a press conference earlier this week, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced that the race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was “over,” as he had secured enough pledges for votes to make him the definitive winner. While the Speaker’s race won’t officially be over until January, when the House convenes for the 86th legislative session and formally votes for the next speaker, that hasn’t stopped Bonnen from proceeding as the presumptive speaker-elect, hiring key staff and putting in place a transition team.
Rep. Bonnen suggested that school finance will be the top priority of the Texas House in the upcoming legislative session, and he has vowed to work with his counterpart across the rotunda. Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a joint statement this week affirming their commitment to unity and working together in the upcoming session. Rep. Bonnen wrote, “The Lieutenant Governor and I share a strong commitment to doing the people’s business.”
School finance commission working group on revenues meeting, November 13, 2018.
On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues discussed the issue of wealth equalization through recapture, which is commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” under the current school finance system.
Led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the group heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders, including former state Sen. Tommy Williams, who testified on behalf of the governor’s office. Williams delivered the first public explanation of the governor’s plan to cap local tax revenue. A detailed account of the meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
This past Tuesday was Election Day. All across the country registered voters lined up at polling places (some with hours-long waits) to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. There were a number of impressive wins and historical elections across the country and Texas was no exception. Turnout for this midterm election was nearly double what it was in 2014.
While Texas’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were all able to secure reelection, the margins by which they won were closer than usual. Democrats in the Texas House were able to flip 12 seats, a gain that has implications for the impending race for a new House Speaker, while the minority party in the Senate also gained two seats. Senate Democrats will most likely still face a vacancy for at least the first part of the 2019 legislative session; Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) announced her resignation today following her election to a U.S. Congressional seat on Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott must now call a special election to fill the state senate seat within the next couple of months. Additionally, the seat flipping in the state legislature might not be complete at this point as a number of candidates who seemingly lost their elections Tuesday by narrow margins are waiting for provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted. Margins that remain slim following the completion of the vote counting could trigger recounts in a few races.
What we know for sure at this point is that Texans made a statement with this election by electing a myriad of pro-public education candidates to office. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the math of this week’s election results in this blog post.
A 2012 decision by the state of Texas to spend less money on students with disabilities is coming back to haunt it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled to uphold a penalty levied by the U.S. Department of Education that withholds $33.3 million dollars in federal funding from Texas’s special education grants. The penalty was imposed after Texas was found to have withheld the same amount of money in funding for special education programs. While the state argued that its special education programs had helped students overcome their disabilities and hence fewer special education services were needed following the 2012 funding decrease, the federal education ageny contended that states can not reduce funding levels from year to year.
After more than a year of voter mobilization efforts aimed at making an impact on the Texas Legislature, educators sprinted across the finish line Tuesday with plenty to be proud of.
Pro-public education candidates for the Texas House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, had a great night. When the dust settled, 74 percent of candidates supported by ATPE-PAC won their races. Conversely, many candidates backed by the infamous group Empower Texans lost their races last night. Forty-two candidates endorsed by the pro-public education entity Texas Parent PAC were victorious, including these new representatives-elect:
HD 4—Keith Bell, R-Forney
HD 8—Cody Harris, R-Palestine
HD 46—Sheryl Cole, D-Austin
HD 47—Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin
HD 52—James Talarico, D-Round Rock
HD 62—Reggie Smith, R-Van Alstyne
HD 105—Terry Meza, D-Irving
HD 113—Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland
HD 114—John Turner, D-Dallas
HD 115—Julie Johnson, D-Addison
HD 118—Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio
HD 121—Steve Allison, R-San Antonio
HD 126—Sam Harless, R-Houston
HD 136—John H Bucy III, D-Round Rock
Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House, which lowers the mathematical advantage for Republicans to 83-67 from the more lopsided 95-55. This shouldn’t matter on most issues, but it could be extremely significant when it comes to dealing with highly partisan legislation such as vouchers or another anti-teacher payroll deduction bill, which the Republican Party of Texas has declared a top legislative priority despite resistance from within the Republican caucus. This new math could also influence the selection of a new House speaker to replace retiring pro-public education Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).
Over to the Texas Senate, the addition of two pro-public education members marks a slight improvement over the last legislative session. Beverly Powell defeated incumbent state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) 52-48%, and Nathan Johnson defeated incumbent Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) 54-46%. Their election helps offset the loss of a Democrat-held seat won by Republican state Senator-elect Pete Flores during a summer special election for Senate District 19.
The GOP majority in the Texas Senate now changes to 19-12 from 21-10, however Republicans will hold a 19-11 advantage for the majority of session due to U.S. Representative-elect Sylvia Garcia’s (D-Houston) refusal to resign her state senate seat on time to hold a replacement election before the legislative session begins.
Under the Senate’s 3/5 rule, 19 votes are needed to pass most major legislation, and just 18 votes will be needed until Garcia’s seat is filled. This is very significant math in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) was able to push through multiple anti-public education bills, including voucher legislation, along largely party-line votes last session. However, there is reason to be optimistic that the results of this election cycle may embolden some pro-public education Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the lieutenant governor on these divisive issues.
Speaking of the lieutenant governor, Texas voters awarded him four more years Tuesday night. Despite his extremely anti-public education policies, Dan Patrick won reelection with a 51-46% victory over Democratic businessman Mike Collier. Patrick’s support roughly tracked with his GOP colleagues on the statewide ballot. Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton each received about 4.2 million votes. Gov. Greg Abbott received the most votes at 4.6 million.
The results up and down the statewide ballot were fairly consistent despite vast differences in the amount spent in each race. Cruz’s Democratic challenger, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, raised a staggering $70 million. His performance at the polls was largely mirrored by his statewide Democratic colleagues who raised a fraction of that amount. Democrats dominated the state’s largest urban areas and were thereby able to flip several local seats, but their numbers were not sufficient to overcome rural Republicans’ advantage in statewide races.
Now begins the process of dissecting the polling data to try and derive additional insights. At a general level, the Democratic strategy relied in part on mobilizing Democratic voters to achieve presidential election-level turnout while hoping Republicans turned out at typical midterm election levels. What happened instead was both Democrats and Republicans turned out at levels approaching a presidential election.
A total of 8.3 million Texas voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections, compared to just 4.6 million voters for the 2014 midterms. Tuesday marked the highest turnout for a midterm election in Texas history, overall second only to the 2016 presidential election in which just shy of 9.0 million Texans voted. Looking deeper, about 400,000 fewer people voted for Cruz in 2018 than voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Conversely, O’Rourke received roughly 400,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.
Registration of eligible voters increased to 79.40 percent in 2018 from 74.15 percent in 2014. This year’s turnout of 52.70 percent marked a 59 percent increase in turnout from 33.70 percent who participated in 2014. Turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 59.39 percent. In raw numbers, turnout compared to the last midterm election was nearly double.
So what does this all mean? It means that overall, educators did a great job electing local candidates who will stand up for public education. Through your hard work, you’ve made a positive difference on the political math within the Texas Legislature. Notwithstanding this success, arguably the largest challenge facing educators will be the retention of statewide leaders who have not taken the most education-friendly stances in the past. Will close calls during this election and the increase in voter turnout and enthusiasm among the education community this year provide an incentive for state leaders to become more responsive to and accountable for the needs of public schools? With the elections over, the battle now moves from the ballot box to the statehouse. Educators will need to harness the same enthusiasm to help make the 2019 legislative session a success for our students and classrooms.
Do you need more help deciding who deserves your votes? ATPE provides profiles of all the candidates running for the Texas legislature, State Board of Education, governor, or lieutenant governor right here on TeachtheVote.org. Profiles include their legislative voting records, answers to our candidate survey, links to their campaign websites, and much more.
You can also generate a personalized ballot at Vote411.org. Don’t forget to print out your sample ballot before heading to the polls, because cell phone use is not permitted once you’re inside the voting booth.
Follow us on Twitter and check out our blog here at Teach the Vote tomorrow for election results.
As an educator, I find Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bogus $10,000 raise claim offensive
By Carl Garner
There seems to be no end to what the lieutenant governor will say in his attempt to convince Texans that he is pro-public education.
Among the daily barrage of television ads to which Texans have been subjected recently, one lie stands out for its particular audacity.
In his most recent ad, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) doubles down on an already debunked claim that he proposed giving teachers a $10,000 raise during the last legislative session.
As an educator, I am startled by this claim for a number of reasons.
At no point during the regular session did Lt. Gov. Patrick show any concern for increasing educator pay. Only after the close of the regular session, when it became clear that his anti-education agenda might finally push educators into action at the polls, did Patrick entertain talk of a raise. The Senate briefly considered a far more modest $1,000 raise but refused to fund it – suggesting cash-strapped districts simply “find the money” to make it happen.
Had that proposal passed, many districts would have had to fire good educators to be able to fund the raises of their former colleagues. Once educators realized Lt. Gov. Patrick and his Senate weren’t serious about truly helping us, we walked away frustrated, if unsurprised.
As far as Lt. Gov. Patrick’s respect for teachers goes, it was nowhere more evident than in his push last session to effectively kick them out of the Capitol through legislation hindering their ability to voluntarily participate in professional associations that advocate for higher standards and more student resources.
Politicians lie. I get it.
But I confess this lie cuts me in a way that is deeply personal.
As an educator, I know what it’s like to spend $400 out of my own pocket every year on classroom supplies for my students. I know the suffocating feeling of watching my healthcare costs go up as my salary stays the same. I know what it’s like to work 12-hour days only to flip on the radio and hear people like Dan Patrick accuse us of failing our kids.
Under Lt. Gov. Patrick, the Texas Senate has steadily decreased the state’s share of public school funding to just 36 percent, forcing local school districts to make up the difference by hiking up local property taxes. Now we’re to believe this same lieutenant governor secretly proposed a $10,000 raise for 350,000 teachers – which would cost more than $4 billion a year – and somehow we missed it?
In fact, the lieutenant governor was so loath to invest another dime in public education last session that he killed a bill that would have contributed as much as 1.9 billion additional dollars to our state’s 5.4 million schoolchildren. Why? He wanted a taxpayer-funded voucher for his private school friends.
Who exactly is failing our kids, Mr. Patrick?
The $10,000 raise claim is so ludicrous that the non-biased fact-checkers at PolitiFact Texas found it false back in February, but Mr. Patrick keeps repeating it. In doing so, he cheapens the genuine personal struggles I and other educators face as a result of his politics.
Perhaps if he’d gone to school in Texas, he’d have been taught that it’s wrong to lie. Perhaps he’d help Texas teachers instead of attack us. Despite his attempts to rewrite history, educators know who Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is.
Perhaps that’s his problem.
Carl Garner, Jr., is ATPE’s Past State President. He is a teacher in Mesquite ISD.
Early voting for the 2018 general election began on Monday with Educator Voting Day. Educators were encouraged to the head to the polls and cast their ballots alongside friends, family, and colleagues. Many educators took to social media to share their “I voted” selfies. While there is no tally of how many educators have turned out at the polls thus far, counties across the state are seeing record numbers of voter turnout for early voting in a midterm election.
Educators especially must remember what’s at stake during this election with regard to school funding, teacher pay, retirement benefits, and a myriad of other issues. It is important to go into this election as informed as possible. For more information on candidates, where to find polling places in your county, and what’s needed in order to vote, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
With such a robust start to the early voting period, it’s only fitting that this week end with today’s Student Voting Day. As decreed by Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos last October:
The first Friday of the early voting period [is] Student Voting Day in Texas. This is a day when our entire community is called upon to urge and encourage all eligible students in Texas to make their voices heard by casting their ballots at ANY polling location in the county of their registration.
Early voting will continue through Nov. 2. For many voters, this weekend offers the only opportunity to early vote on the weekend. The general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Whether you vote early or on election day, take time to learn about the candidates and build and print out your sample ballot before heading to the polls.
Much attention has been paid nationally to the competitive race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger Congressman Beto O’Rourke, but Texans know that isn’t the only race at issue in this election. Contests for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and many other down ballot races will be decided in this election, and the outcomes of those contests on Nov. 6 could set the course for education policy in Texas for generations to come. As recent media reports show, educators and public education issues are taking center stage in a number of high-profile races, including statewide contests.
“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.” – as reported by the Texas Tribune.
In an article published this week by the Texas Tribune and reposted here on Teach The Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter explained that for quite some time the education community has been expected to lay down and take whatever the legislature gives them. But that tide may be starting to change. Educators have been becoming increasingly vocal and active in recent elections. A popular target of educators’ dissatisfaction with the status quo has been Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), and the Texas Tribune‘s article highlights the role educators have played in the bid by Democratic challenger Mike Collier to unseat him.
Another statewide race where public education has emerged as an issue, somewhat surprisingly, is the election for Texas Attorney General. There, Justin Nelson (D) is challenging the current AG Ken Paxton (R) and calling out the incumbent for eyebrow-raising stances he has taken on questions of political involvement by educators. Earlier this year when educators started activating behind another challenger vying to unseat Lt. Gov. Patrick in the Republican primary election, Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion questioning the propriety of certain actions being taken by school officials and pro-public education groups like ATPE to increase voter turnout among educators and even students who are eligible to vote. Paxton has used the AG’s office to continue to intimidate school district leaders out of promoting voting, and Nelson has responded by appealing directly to educators in the late stages of his campaign.
Read more about how educator involvement in this election has become a central focus in the AG’s race and how the education community is responding to the attempts to tamp down educators’ enthusiasm in this post by ATPE’s Exter. For public school employees who still have questions about what is and is not permissible political speech under state law, the Texas Educators Vote (TEV) coalition of which ATPE is a member also created this guide on Election Do’s and Dont’s for educators.
If you want to beat the crowds on Election Day, you’ll want to turn out at the polls during the “12 Days of Voting” happening now. But ATPE can point to numerous other reasons for educators to get out and vote regardless of the crowds or lines.
As has been stated many times before, the results of this election happening now are crucial to every Texan but to educators especially. During this early voting period, we’ve begun highlighting some of the reasons why educators should take this election to heart. It doesn’t take much to see that with state leaders campaigning on boasts about non-existent pay raises for teachers, with continuous increases in the cost of healthcare, and with local taxpayers bearing more and more of the burden for school funding, it doesn’t take much to see that it’s time for a change. Check out the latest installments of our 12 Days of Voting series at the links below, and keep watching for new posts in our blog series throughout the early voting period:
A brand new poll released by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune today shows that high numbers of Texas voters are enthusiastic about the general election happening now. As reported by the Texas Tribune today, 76 percent of the voters polled said they were “absolutely certain” they would be voting in the midterms. Both Republican and Democratic voters displayed such enthusiasm according to the new polls results. In most recent midterm elections, the actual percentage of registered voters who turned out at the polls in Texas has been only about 38 percent.
The poll also showed statewide officeholders holding considerable leads over their challengers among likely voters. Here are more excerpts from the Texas Tribune‘s reporting:
The Democrat wants to draw teachers and education-minded voters away from the Republican Party. But can he win over enough educators to unseat a powerful incumbent?
Democrat Mike Collier (left) is challenging Republican incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Photos by Bob Daemmrich: Collier/Marjorie Kamys Cotera: Patrick.
TAYLOR — It was a weekday morning, and Williamson County’s retired teachers were back in school.
Dozens of them gathered one October Friday in a large conference room off of Main Street Intermediate School, where the walls were beige concrete blocks, the sunlight was sneaking through the blinds, and the speakers — a slate of Texas candidates — were fighting to keep the room’s interest. Casting a shadow on the projector screen at the front of the room was Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who was preparing to hit a softball: Does Texas need its state retirement benefits system for teachers?
“Yes,” he said simply. “First of all, it’s the right thing to do. … It’s self-evident.”
He began to make a pulpit of his plastic table.
“And we’re a prosperous state! And we can afford it!” he continued, finger-wagging for emphasis. When he sat down, the room applauded.
On his longshot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.
Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.
Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.
But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?
“The most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas”
Patrick is the heavy favorite to keep his seat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than 20 years. He has the fundraising muscle, the endorsements and, more than likely, the reliable voters of a reliably dominant majority party.
As the leader of the Texas Senate, Patrick is one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and he’s used his influence to push socially conservative policies through the upper chamber at an impressive clip — abortion restrictions, border enforcement, anti-“sanctuary cities” laws. Republican senators credit him with firm, effective leadership; liberals consider that effectiveness perhaps the state’s greatest threat to their values.
Patrick chaired President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign efforts in Texas, and shared the stage with him at a campaign rally in Houston this week, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night. Patrick is, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said at a recent campaign event, “the most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas.”
But his party isn’t without its disagreements. Some have pointed to a split between Patrick, who heads a Tea Party-aligned faction of the party, and retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, a more moderate figure. During the last legislative year, that split emerged in full force when Patrick pushed forward a bill that would have restricted transgender individuals’ access to certain public facilities. Straus condemned it as bad for business, and never brought it to the House floor for a vote — a move that contributed to his censure by the State Republican Executive Committee.
Tensions from the 2017 legislative sessions have bled into this fall’s campaign, if in limited fashion. One example: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who leads Texas’ most populous county, said he plans to vote for Collier.
But a family feud won’t keep a Republican incumbent from getting re-elected, strategists and elected officials predict. Patrick has the public support of Texas’ top Republicans; his campaign boasts the endorsements of both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the governor and all but one Republican state senator.
“There’s no question” that Patrick will win re-election, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an ally of the lieutenant governor. Bettencourt represents the Houston district Patrick served until 2014 — heavily overlapping with Emmett’s turf — and said he’s confident that Patrick has the support of the region. “Dan Patrick is going to be re-elected. Dan Patrick is very popular in the Republican party.”
Still, if there are disenchanted Republican moderates to be picked off, Collier is working to endear himself to them.
In a year when even Texas Democrats are running as unabashed progressives, Collier has charted a more careful path. His party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate is a former punk rocker who went viral for skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot while on the campaign trail. For governor, Democrats have nominated Lupe Valdez, the state’s first openly gay and Latina candidate to win the nod.
Collier does not ride a skateboard. At 57, he’s spent much of his life working as an accountant, and he only recently committed to the Democratic party — he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He seems most comfortable talking numbers — “I’m Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare! I’m a Democrat and an auditor!” he likes to say — and seems less sure-footed discussing social issues.
On the death penalty, for example, Collier said he is still “evolving” toward a more liberal point of view. Collier justifies his support for undocumented immigrants in Texas in financial terms, not on moral grounds: They draw about $2 billion in state resources a year, but contribute about $2.7 billion back through property taxes, he says, so, “it doesn’t bother me that they’re here.” His line is similar on LGBTQ rights. In an interview last month, he couldn’t list inclusive legislation he’d push, but said he did “have in mind blocking” measures considered hostile to the gay community, like the so-called “bathroom bill.”
“Tolerance and inclusiveness is good for business,” Collier said, a line he could almost have borrowed from Straus.
“Public enemy number one for public education”
If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.
As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.
“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”
Meanwhile, Patrick portrays himself as a champion for public schools. This summer, after his urging, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas opted not to raise health care premiums for retired teachers. In an ad last week, he reiterated his proposal to raise teacher salaries by an average of $10,000.
“Teachers are more valuable than expensive buildings and fancy stadiums,” Patrick says in the commercial, standing on a sunny hill in front of a truck. “It’s my priority, it’s best for our kids and it’s the right thing to do.”
But many in the public education community are skeptical about that plan in a system they say is already underfunded. Tracy Fisher, the president of Coppell ISD’s board and a Republican precinct chair in Dallas County, called the lieutenant governor’s proposal “deceptive.” He is “public enemy number one for public education,” she added.
And the effort hasn’t won Patrick favor from major teachers groups, some of whom have called his efforts disingenuous. Collier won the endorsements of the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas’ chapter of American Federation of Teachers; AFT president Louis Malfaro said Patrick has “tried to browbeat local school districts.” In its first-ever endorsements of statewide candidates, the public education group Texas Parent PAC also backed Collier, calling Patrick a bully and ideologue “who cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen our neighborhood public schools.”
Patrick’s campaign said those groups hardly speak for all Texas teachers. But the incumbent’s recent teacher raise ad shows he’s still focused on courting educators.
“While almost all the organizations that represent teachers are left-leaning and Democrat, in fact, Texas teachers tell us that most are Republicans who support border security, property tax reform and the innovative education reforms, including career tech, that have been championed by the Lt. Governor,” said Sherry Sylvester, a top Patrick aide.
Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said dissatisfied educators may narrow Patrick’s margin of victory, but they won’t threaten it.
“Do I think that feeling is widespread enough to cause concern for Dan Patrick? No,” he said.
A “sleeping giant”?
There are about 700,000 public school employees in Texas; that number doubles when you include retirees in the system, and multiplies if you add parents who consider public education their top voting issue. Collier is counting on that diverse group to back him as a block — but those voters have a wide range of backgrounds and political leanings. And they don’t always show up.
“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.”
Last year, in the wake of disappointments at the Legislature, many educators pledged to come together — including, and especially, across party lines — to support pro-public education candidates. In the months since, they’ve moved their advocacy from the Capitol steps to the internet, where nearly 27,000 have joined a Facebook group, Texans For Public Education, whose stated mission is block voting. The group, which color-codes its list of candidates, marked Collier green — “friendly,” “block vote” — and Patrick red: “unfriendly” to public education.
Collier is counting on turning them out to vote for him. But that bet has failed before.
Just ask Jim Largent, who retired as Granbury ISD superintendent this year after a failed primary challenge to state Rep. Mike Lang, a fellow North Texas Republican. Running as the pro-public education candidate, Largent won just 38 percent of the vote. In the Houston area, Fort Bend ISD board president Kristin Tassin suffered the same fate, taking just 27 percent of the vote in a challenge to state Sen. Joan Huffman that Tassin hoped teachers would swing in her favor.
A similar pattern emerged in the lieutenant governor’s race, where Patrick was one of just a few statewide officials to draw a serious primary challenger. Patrick’s opponent was Scott Milder, the founder of the advocacy group Friends of Texas Public Schools, who drew some attention for bad-mouthing Patrick — he called the incumbent a “bully,” a “jackass” and even a “fake conservative” —but remained the clear underdog in financial support and name recognition. Milder pushed the Patrick campaign to spend over $5 million on advertising, but ultimately won just under a quarter of Republican primary voters — a smaller share than either Tassin or Largent. Within days of the loss, Milder endorsed Collier.
Looking back on his attempt, Largent called Texas educators the electorate’s “sleeping giant.” The question, he said, is whether in a general election they’re more likely to wake up.
“I have always thought that Mike had a better shot than I did in the primary,” Milder said. “So few people actually turn out in the primary. … But a much broader base of Texans shows up in the general.”
Collier argues that the pro-public education voting block he envisions is more likely to swing a general election than a primary. Considering Democrats and Republicans who backed Milder, more people voted against Patrick in the primary than for him, Collier likes to point out.
There is also a Libertarian candidate in this fall’s race, Kerry McKennon.
“I do think that my race is as competitive as any,” Collier said. “There are going to be Republicans who stay home because they hate Dan Patrick. There are going to be a lot of Democrats who turn out because they hate Dan Patrick.”
The incumbent’s team isn’t so sure of that, though they did spend some $6.5 million on advertising in the last quarter to make extra sure. They have history on their side — and history suggests they have the numbers on their side, too.
At a rainy get out the vote rally in New Braunfels last week, Patrick projected confidence.
“There are folks like us who are going to keep Texas red — who are not going to let the blue wave take us out,” Patrick promised a cheering, bundled-up crowd.
While introducing Patrick, Campbell, the Republican state senator, summed it up neatly.
“I’ll tell you, they are motivated!” she said of Democrats. “But there are more of us than them.”
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.