On Election Day, The Boston Globe reported, Logan International Airport in Boston was running short of parking spaces. Not for cars — for private jets. Big donors were flooding into the city to attend Mitt Romney’s victory party.
They were, it turned out, misinformed about political reality. But the disappointed plutocrats weren’t wrong about who was on their side. This was very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor.
And the Obama campaign won largely by disregarding the warnings of squeamish “centrists” and embracing that reality, stressing the class-war aspect of the confrontation. This ensured not only that President Obama won by huge margins among lower-income voters, but that those voters turned out in large numbers, sealing his victory.
The important thing to understand now is that while the election is over, the class war isn’t. The same people who bet big on Mr. Romney, and lost, are now trying to win by stealth — in the name of fiscal responsibility — the ground they failed to gain in an open election.
The former vice president for health care policy at an Austin-based, conservative think tank has become Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek’s “special adviser,” concentrating on two urgent and thorny social services issues.
Mary Katherine Stout, who also served as budget and policy director to Gov. Rick Perry in recent years, is working for Janek on ideas for overhauling the state-federal Medicaid health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled, Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, said Thursday.
From Stout’s work history of the announcement about her joining Gov. Rick Perry’s staff in 2008.
Prior to joining the Foundation in February 2005, Stout worked for then-Chair Diane Rath at the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), where Stout served as policy analyst and handled issues among the two-dozen TWC programs including TANF and child care.
Stout previously worked for the Texas Conservative Coalition and the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI), working closely with the TCCRI task forces on fiscal policy, health and human services, and school finance reform.
Additionally, Stout worked as a policy analyst at the Texas Legislative Council and in the office of former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster.
Stout received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Texas A&M University.
In other words she bounced back-and-forth between the government bureaucracy and the corporate bureaucracy of right-wing think tanks her whole career. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se. Her expertise is in gutting government as a ideological political hack. This Andrea Grimes post points out, referenced in the above DMN article, Stout’s boss Kyle Janek is trying to use his best political spin, in a misguided attempt to discredit the how many uninsured adults there are in Texas.
Because Kyle Janek doesn’t believe—despite credible, widely accepted evidence to the contrary—that one of Texas’ most pressing health problems, its high number of uninsured adults, is real.He doesn’t believe that more than a quarter of Texans are uninsured, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. He told a Texas Tribune reporter in early October that he believed that number to be “inflated,” and then reiterated his point in an extended interview with Tribune editor Evan Smith on October 31st. (Through his press representatives, he refused an interview with RH Reality Check.) Here’s his most recent take via the Tribune:
“It’s not that I don’t believe those numbers. I don’t believe the reasoning for those numbers.”
Janek’s problem: he said the Census Bureau only takes a “snapshot” by asking people if they’re uninsured, and doesn’t ask them if they had insurance in the past or if they think they have a job lined up with insurance in the future. Janek must not be aware that for nearly 25 years, the Census Bureau’s “snapshot” has shown practically the same thing: since 1987, Texas repeatedly has one of the highest, or the very highest, number of uninsured adults in the country. That rate has not been below 1987′s 23 percent; it peaked at 26.8 percent in 2009 and is currently estimated at 26.2 percent.
That’s a remarkably consistent snapshot of something that Janek seems to believe changes for millions of people by the day. Janek says he isn’t sure why Texas “is different” when it comes to health care, but he told the Tribune it could be because the weather here is nice.
“Do we have so many people that are temporarily uninsured? Or is it the general climate of better weather and glorious place to live? Folks come here, and that attracts more folks with health care needs or disabilities?” he wondered during the interview. Surely our high uninsured numbers couldn’t be due to the fact that Texas jobs generally don’t provide health insurance, that Medicaid in the state is limited, that insurance rates are unregulated or that Texas has a large immigrant population, as the Washington Postreported last year. No, it’s probably just the purty weather.
I called Dr. John Holcomb, a pulmonologist who chairs the Texas Medical Association’s committee on Medicaid, to find out what he makes of Janek’s stance. (Spoiler alert: the TMA’s official position is that “Texas is the uninsured capital of the United States.”) Holcomb told me that Janek’s comments are “a perfect example of how Dr. Janek is not ready for prime time.”
Holcomb told me that while Janek is a “very good speaker” and “very articulate,” when it comes to uninsured rates in Texas, “everyone knows exactly what those numbers are.” They aren’t inflated. They’re real. They’re accepted by public health professionals all over the state, including Dr. Janet Realini, the president of unplanned pregnancy prevention group Healthy Futures of Texas. Realini has been a vocal supporter of maintaining the Medicaid Women’s Health Program and a critic of the state’s and the HHSC’s cuts and changes to money-saving family planning programs.
And Grimes goes on to say this about Stout’s new position.
Her name is Mary Katherine Stout, and for $150,000 per year, the former Perry staffer, Wal-Mart defender and far-right Texas Public Policy Foundation economics “expert” will act as a “special advisor,” “involved in a number of policy and planning issues,” according to HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. Goodman toldRH Reality Check that Stout will be “looking at ways [Texas HHSC] can work with medical schools to support their efforts to make sure Texas has enough health professionals.”
In the past, Stout has particularly focused her efforts on criticizing Medicaid and especially CHIP, the popular children’s Medicaid program, which she has said is rife with luxury car-driving freeloaders and should be closed to people who are verily rolling in cash and furs, like “those making as much as $40,000 annually for a family of four.” Stout’s coldness is unusual even for Texas right-wingers, and her cruel preoccupation with making sure as few Texas children as possible receive needed aid borders on the bizarre. To that end, this was her 2007 proposal for fighting “The Left” in the National Review:
Perhaps we should fight their strategy with our own campaign to tell stories of success, of people working hard and making good decisions for their family, of people who made something out of nothing, or who turned something into more. Yes, send me your stories of success, of personal responsibility, and of government’s depredations on a family trying to make ends meet.
These are the words of a “special advisor” on Texas public health care policy, who’ll be whispering in the ear of a man who believes the state has “inflated” uninsured numbers because hey, poor people can always go walk in and get some open heart surgery at a public hospital or amorphous medical school of dubious funding origin.
No one should fool themselves that the current leaders of our government in Texas, the far right of the Texas GOP, is going to use government to help the people of Texas. They want to privatize government and make sure their campaign donors can profit from taxpayers. That’s what their version of the “free market” ideology has become. This is just more of the same. People like this who think government is the problem, will never come up with government solutions to help people. And if we keep electing them nothing is going to change.
Facing a fast-brewing storm of opposition, the Texas Ethics Commission this morning abandoned a plan to take over criminal enforcement of state ethics laws from Travis County prosecutors.
Ever since former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle took on former GOP Congressman Tom Delay, the GOP in Texas has wanted to neuter the Travis County Public Integrity Unit – which is part of the Travis County DA’s office. This article by Nate Blakeslee at Burkablog from 2011 is a great primer on why the Public Integrity Unit is under attack, Sneak Attack on Public Integrity Unit?
Buried in the four-inch stack of amendments to the house budget bill is a subtly crafted ambush on the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. This is the outfit that investigates corruption cases involving public officials, the most famous of which in recent memory was Ronnie Earle’s dogged pursuit of Tom Delay in the TRMPAC case. Earle has moved on, but Republicans haven’t forgiven or forgotten. This session, Arlington Republican Bill Zedler filed a bill (HB 1928) seeking to move the unit out of the Travis County D.A.’s office and into the Attorney General’s office, which is to say, out of Democratic control and into Republican-held territory.
As Blakeslee goes on to point out the Public Integrity Unit does more than just oversee the conduct of public officials.
The Public Integrity Unit doesn’t just do public corruption investigations—it also prosecutes insurance fraud and tax fraud, including on sales of gasoline and tobacco. In the last 4 years, the unit has recovered over $8 million in restitution. With no funding, those investigations would cease, too. In other words, Zedler wouldn’t just be screwing the men and women of the Public Integrity Unit, he’d be screwing the taxpayers of Texas…
The Texas Ethics Commission, long criticized for its lax enforcement of public officials, is considering a plan to take over all ethics enforcement from the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has a long history of prosecuting errant state officeholders.
The eight-member Ethics Commission, meeting Thursday in Austin, is scheduled to consider a recommendation “transplanting certain existing investigative and prosecutorial authority and budget from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit to the Texas Ethics Commission.”
“Only the authority and budget relating to the conduct of public officials elected and appointed should be so reassigned,” the recommendation states. “Many of the existing personnel staffing these functions would come across as seamlessly as possible.”
But the reality is the Texas Ethics Commission would be extremely unlikely to do the kind of bipartisan enforcement the Public Integrity Unit is know for. When Democrats still had power in Texas Ronnie Earle prosecuted them as well. But removing this power from the Public Integrity Unit would essentially free-up public officials in Texas to do as they please, with little worry of recourse.
Noting that watchdog groups were hoping for ramped-up enforcement by the Ethics Commission, not a takeover of the county’s Public Integrity Unit that has prosecuted the only criminal violations, he added: “This is a dream turned into a nightmare.”
Fred Lewis, a former assistant attorney general and advocate who is considered one of the state’s foremost experts on the Ethics Commission, was more blunt: “This agency is not only toothless, it’s gumless. You can’t get any more ineffectual than they’ve been.”
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said she hadn’t been contacted about the proposal and wasn’t sure that the proposed transfer of enforcement duties is legal.
“I oppose it,” she said. “It gives authority to a branch of government where it doesn’t belong. … The law places jurisdiction with me for offenses that occur in my county. I think we’ve been fair and balanced in the way we’ve handled these cases in the past.”
The Travis County Public Integrity Unit has long been the only true enforcement arm over the corruption of public officials in Texas. It’s easy to see that if the only entity known for holding public officials accountable is disarmed it will become a free-for-all in Texas. This coupled with Citizens United the pubic’s voice will be drowned out even more than it already is in Texas politics.
A lack of enforcement on this issue makes public corruption more likely, not less. But that’s what will happen if we let the foxes guard the hen house. Instead of this we should be trying to make it harder for public officials to get away with their ethics violation.
There are so many families in Texas who are living in poverty through no fault of their own – because of unforeseen medical bills or a layoff. People that are victims of circumstance, and are working hard to get out of their situation but can’t. Far too many of us are just a job loss or a medical emergency away from being in the same situation. That’s what this trailer for a documentary called A Fighting Chance brings to light.
Anyone who want to learn more can check out this free screening and discussion of the documentary on December 6th, via the CPPP, A Fighting Chance.
We are thrilled to share the two-minute trailer of our 30-minute documentary A Fighting Chance, which sheds light on what it really takes for families to survive and thrive in Texas and exposes the tough choices families must make on a daily basis.
The film will chronicle every step of their journey as they fight to meet their most basic needs. Thanks to the generosity of Methodist Health Care Ministries, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Citi Foundation, we hope to touch the hearts and minds of Texans by exposing the harsh reality of poverty and challenging our common assumptions.
A Fighting Chance will air on KLRU Austin, the local PBS station, and others statewide in a few weeks. If you are in Austin, please join us next week for a premiere screening of the film followed by a panel discussion:
There is no serious discussion of how to try and lower the poverty rate in Texas, which is key to fixing our health and education problems. Instead these problems fester as our state leaders hoard billions of dollars that could be used to help many who are suffering in Texas.
This completely misses the point that most Americans really do care about freedom, the freedom to make their own personal choices and having the economic opportunity to do so. What was so great about the ’50s wasn’t that Leave it to Beaver represented the typical American family, but that it was a time of reletively lowincome disparity in the US. Yes, the greatest generation lived during a time when the rich paid their fair share and the highest marginal income tax rate was 91%. People saw the value of organized labor and as recently as the 70s, CEOs only made an average of 26.5 times their employees. Now, CEOs make over 200 times their employee and the Right still vilifies those who fight for fairness for working people. More over, they want you to believe that they earned all that money through “hard work”, yet they nominated a CEO for President who made $20 million this year even though the only thing he has run lately is – a failed Presidential campaign.
Today’s Conservative tantrums present a great opportunity for Democrats to reach out to white middle-class male voters, a demographic they continue to struggle with. A successful effort could put the final nail in the national Republican Party’s coffin. Unfortunately for the foreseeable future, Texas will not be that final nail. Here, Democrats may be winning the future demographic race but right now their inability to win moderate rural voters is crippling. Democrats share of the vote was less in 2012 than it was in 2008 and far behind Gov. Ann Richards’ 49.7% in 1990. The truth is, in Texas there’s a messaging gap not a demographic one – Republicans have hurt mostly-White rural Texans with their economic policies just as they have set back minorities across the board with their social policies.
Those with a stake in the longevity of the Republican Party know it must change its social and economic image to be a viable institution in the future. The party that had once drawn success from a lock-step approach to legislative victory is now in the throes of an inner party struggle between those who feel the party is purifying itself into nonexistence and those who believe a broader appeal sacrifices their conservative values. This is most evident in the Republican quest to recruit Hispanics into their ranks. Conservativesclaim that Hispanics have a natural propensity to be conservative but their voting trends show something much different. Not only did Hispanics vote overwhelmingly for Obama, they are majority supporters of his more controversial policies including the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality. This suggests that even if Republicans managed to cool-down their anti-immigration rhetoric it won’t be enough to sway most Latino voters. And, its likely for the same reason they lost the greater election – their economic policies just don’t add up to success for the middle class.
What’s been lost is the opportunity to rise in our economic system, and there’s no one in power that’s fighting tooth-and-nail to get that back. Which has caused economic angst for all Americans. The American Dream as we used to know it, also known as social mobility, is dying – Stalled upward social mobility in America. What’s clear is that there’s a lot of talk nationally about what needs to change for the GOP to win a Presidential Election again. But still very little talk, from either party, of the dire economic situation for those at the bottom of our economy. As with the discussion of the fiscal curb, aka the “fiscal cliff, Don’t call it a fiscal cliff.
When talking about the “cliff,” policymakers and the media have largely focused on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts and pending automatic “sequestration” spending cuts, but these account for less than a third of the economic drag scheduled for 2013.
In reality, the expiration of the remaining fiscal stimulus—notably the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment benefits—poses the biggest threat to growth. And the upper-income Bush-era tax cuts and estate tax cuts do the least to support job creation and most starkly fail cost-benefit analysis. Ending those tax cuts would produce $1.2 trillion in revenue over the next decade.
Because it’s not an either-or choice, my colleague Josh Bivens and I recommend a mix of policies that would boost economic growth by 1.7 percentage points and generate more than 2 million jobs in 2013 while, at the same time, reducing the 10-year budget deficit by $651 billion. To do this, we propose a balanced approach of using half the revenue from rolling back these recent tax cuts for upper-income households (earning above $250,000 annually) to finance near-term job-creation policies while using the other half as a down payment on long-term deficit reduction.
Broadly speaking, job creation and deficit reduction are at odds in the near term.
For Democrats to win again in places like Texas, they have to continuously show how through the GOP’s policy choices, the economic concerns of the wealthy always supersede those of everyone else. That is the essence of so-called “trickle-down” economics after all. The rich have been getting richer, and the poor getting poorer, for decades now in Texas. Just how long does it take for things to start trickling down?
Barack Obama’s re-election to the presidency, just as his first election, is defined in large measure by the pathetic quality of his competition. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that while Republicans have only themselves to blame for their circumstances, maybe it’s time for the victors to help them work through their bitterness.
Williamson County, with 422,679 residents in 2010, has grown more diverse. The Hispanic population alone jumped from 17 percent of the county’s residents in 2000 to nearly 24 percent in 2010 — but county Democratic Chairwoman Karen Carter said her party has failed to turn out the voters they need.
Democrats had a recent taste of victory in Williamson County in 2008, when Diana Maldonado won a state House seat centered on Round Rock. She lost two years later to Republican Larry Gonzalez. That same year, County Commissioner Lisa Birkman, a Republican who serves a precinct that includes Round Rock, beat Democrat Mike Grimes by just 321 votes.
This year, Democrats pinned their hopes and resources on a new state House district centered on Cedar Park, but Republican Tony Dale — a former Cedar Park city council member — took the seat with 53 percent of the vote. Democrat Matt Stillwell took 41 percent and Libertarian Matthew Whittington had 6 percent.
Dale’s margin of victory was the smallest of any race between a Republican and Democrat in the county. Republican Jana Duty won a countywide race for district attorney against Democrat Ken Crain with 59 percent of the vote.
Despite the loss, Carter said Democrats aren’t giving up: “We absolutely think everything in the future is working toward us.”
Carter said she sees three groups that could help turn the county purple: Progressive voters moving from Austin and from outside of Texas, young people now old enough to vote, and Republicans who were once Democrats and might now consider “returning to their roots.”
“We’re not going away. We’re continuing to grow,” Carter said.
Brian Hamon, a local Democratic activist and former county Democratic Party chair, sees things differently.
“The fact of the matter is we haven’t got a chance,” Hamon said, pointing to the low turnout by likely Democratic voters.
Democrats can win in Williamson County but it’s going to take time, lots of money, and a sustained effort even when it seems like it’s hopeless.
“It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something. But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough “good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”
Rick Perry and David Dewhurst are driving right past those red “Wrong Way” signs straight toward another legislative ‘emergency’ in search of a problem. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that if peeing in a cup is suddenly such a high priority, perhaps the governor and lieutenant governor would like to go first.
It’s pretty clear that a good deal of people in Williamson County are expecting significant changes throughout the justice system with the election of Jana Duty as District Attorney to replace John Bradley. So it’s not a surprise that there will be significant staff changes in the District Attorney’s office, Next Williamson County DA already shaking up staff.
Newly elected Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty won’t take office until January, but she already has told 10 office employees — a third of the staff — that their services will no longer be needed.
Five prosecutors, an investigator, a court coordinator, an executive assistant, a receptionist and a forensics specialist were told they wouldn’t have a job as of Jan. 1, and the victim services director also resigned.
Duty said she didn’t want to keep some of the prosecutors because they were “indoctrinated in the John Bradley school of thought,” what she called a closed-file policy under which defense attorneys weren’t allowed to see the evidence against their clients until shortly before trial.
Bradley, the district attorney who lost to Duty in a bitter Republican primary in May, described those let go as “good and professional employees” and said Duty was “blinded by her political hatred.”
Several prosecutors said they had already announced their intention to leave the office at the end of the year, and prosecutors Jana McCown and Lindsey Roberts each sent Duty a letter this week calling her statements to the American-Statesman untrue and threatening possible litigation, saying Duty’s claims could damage their reputations.
Bradley said he has had an open file policy for trial cases since taking office, adding, “We expanded that policy to all cases about a year ago.”
Duty said the reasons for the other planned terminations departures in the office varied. “Some people were rude. Some are unprofessional. Some I do not trust.”
People were given notice this month so they would have time to look for other jobs, Duty said. “It is a big turnover, but that office is in need of being shaken up a little bit,” she said.
Duty said she plans to be fully staffed by Jan. 1. The office typically includes 12 prosecutors, the district attorney, five investigators, three victim/witness coordinators and nine support staffers.
“It’s not unusual to have a lot of changes early on,” when a new district attorney takes office, said Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “Everybody gets to set their office up and get the people in that they want.”
But it’s not just the people that need to be cleaned out, it’s the old way of “doin’ bidness” in the DA’s office that must also change. I’ve long held that many of the problems with the justice system in Williamson County have to do with the county’s rapid growth. The county can no longer be run like it’s Hazzard County, it’s time to grow up. These excerpts from the comments to the article above highlight what’s expected:
I voted for Duty because she has made a reputation of making alot of the esablishment angry and I hope she continues to do so.
Shake and Bake, good for you and the county.maybe NOW there will be Justice in Williamson county.
Duty has every right to clean house entirely if she wants to and start all over. It’s her responsibility now and she will be held accountable by the voters. She had better produce along the lines of those who elected her.
Great news for Williamson County! Finally we may start to see fair, consistent justice in this county.
..under John Bradley I’ve seen people screwed over for things they never committed, all based on what officers say to the DA’s office. It’s all about making it look like you are tough on crime, but as Bradley showed with the Michael Morton case, he just does NOT give a sh*t about the people..
Similar to what President Obama face in his first term – trying to fix the long festering problems of his predecessor – that’s what Duty is facing. Williamson County and John Bradley’s unfair and unequal justice over the years, is what was voted out on election day. Voters are expecting progress to a more rational, fair and equal justice system. If Duty can deliver on that mandate it will be a welcomed change.
The gap between the top one-fifth and the middle one-fifth of Texas families is also the 7th highest among the states.
The average household income for the richest one-fifth of Texas households is 2.9 times greater than the average for the middle one-fifth. The gap between the very highest income – the top 5% — and middle one-fifth is even greater; the top group has an average income 4.8 times as large as the lowest.
The current inequality reflects a long term trend: since the late 1970s, through the mid 2000s, the inflation-adjusted income for the poorest one-fifth of Texas families has remained flat – growing by only 2.4%. During the same time period, the income of the middle one-fifth improved only a little more – by 16.4%. But the top one-fifth saw its income grow by 58.9% and the top 5% saw a whopping 96.0% job in household income.
Texas’ inability to fund public services is directly linked to this growing income gap. Our tax system depends heavily on the sales tax and similar consumption taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol. These taxes each take a much greater proportion of the income of lower- and moderate-income families than from higher-income families.
This unbalanced tax load makes it harder for struggling families to support themselves and gather assets to support personal investments in education or housing. It also means that the revenue the state needs for public investments cannot keep up with the growth in needs, since our tax system is too closely linked to the incomes of the lowest-income families, which has failed to grow over the past decades.
The best solution is to adopt a state personal income tax, which reflects a taxpayer’s ability to pay, with higher rates on those with higher incomes.
To improve our current system, the Legislature should subject the entire Tax Code to a sunset review, to eliminate outmoded business tax breaks, wasteful property tax exemptions, and other special treatments enjoyed by higher-income households and corporations.
The full report can be read here and Texas state report here.
The politicization of next year’s budget cycle – started today by Dewhurst and Straus – will only make inequality worse in Texas. It’s time to do what’s best for the people of Texas, and not ideological purity.