Archive for July, 2011

So long, Super-intendent

Former Boerne ISD Superintendent Dr. John Kelly begins his new work with Pearland ISD Monday. I’ll miss seeing his twelve passenger van cruising around town. I’ll miss the sound effects and movie clips he used to spice up Powerpoint presentations. Most of all, I’ll miss his educational philosophy.

Any cultural observer knows that public education in America is in dire straits. Powers that be can’t even agree on how to count dropouts, much less prevent them. They’ve parsed student populations in every which sub-group but still can’t overcome the difficult environments from which many children come.

Public education, the great equalizer, often equalizes to the lowest common denominator. This fact is no fault of the men and women who give their lives to shape the next generation. It is the reality, nevertheless. I wish it weren’t so.

Enough legislators, regulators and appropriators have contributed their “expertise” to the equation to result in quite a quagmire. The matrix of overlapping federal and state requirements looks more like a circuit board than a lesson plan. It’s no wonder TAKS is a four-letter word.

It was out of this mess that John Kelly made sense. His wonkish smarts supplied a sense of comfort. His moral authority motivated you to follow him out of the morass. His leadership helped build a district that area real estate agents put at the top of their advertising flyers.

I realize that some didn’t care for Dr. Kelly’s personality, his peculiarities, his pay. But I always found him to be responsive, thoughtful and data-driven. A friend of mine e-mailed him one morning about a disparity in the district’s elementary school sizes. My friend received a 500-word treatise back, complete with background data and possible solutions, by lunchtime.

I also found John Kelly to be a bargain, compared to the superintendent pay in so-called property wealthy districts in the DFW Metroplex.

Most remarkably, Dr. Kelly’s centered convictions laid a faith-based foundation from which true truth discovery could rise. In a politically correct, pluralistic environment, he was unafraid to acknowledge that there is a God, that each child is not a random collection of cells, that each person has value and potential.

You got the sense that he would make as good of a private school headmaster as he does a public school superintendent. But he wants to be in the system, though not of the system. He wants to make the best of the challenging situation an institutionalized bureaucracy has created.

John Kelly is a believer in public education. What it used to be. What it can be. As a product of public education myself and with children in BISD, I commend him for his time here.

I also wish him well in Pearland. I hope the stakeholders appreciate the quality they’re getting there. And I hope we recruit a leader of comparable caliber here.

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and currently serves as Vice President of Texas Heritage Bank. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Adults in the room

Belittling House Republicans has surpassed golf, gossip and the theater as the favorite pasttime of the Washington, D.C., establishment. Those Republicans must be doing their job.President Obama described them last month as unruly schoolchildren. Democrat Senate majority leader Harry Reid called his counterpart in the House, Republican majority leader Eric Cantor, “childish” and suggested he return to the infamous kids’ table.All the while, media reports have consistently portrayed President Obama as the “adult in the room.”

Where were models of maturity Reid and Obama over the last five years during the debt ceiling’s meteoric rise? When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, the debt ceiling stood at $9 trillion. Today, it’s over $14 trillion.

Democrats never sounded the debt ceiling alarm back then because, philosophically, they want a high debt ceiling to accommodate large debt that gets repaid by high taxes.

Where was the Democrats’ plan to reduce the debt when House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan delivered his comprehensive proposal earlier this year? It was nowhere to be found because there wasn’t one, for the same high-ceiling-debt-taxes reason referenced above.

And why is now the right time to raise taxes when seven months ago wasn’t? Has unemployment or GDP or real estate values or wages improved dramatically so far this year? No. What has changed is Mr. Obama believes he can get some tax hikes through.

The president’s anti-tax rhetoric last December during the Bush tax cuts extension debate did not represent his deepest convictions. It was cover for not being able to do what his ideology and political base wanted.

“Raise taxes during a slow recovery after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?” Obama essentially said then. “You can’t raise taxes during a recovery.”

Unless you can.

Barack Obama does not truly want any major cost-saving reforms to health care entitlement programs, a particularly gargantuan budget buster. If he did, he would have included them in his massive health care act of 2010. He did not. He added costly entitlements instead.

And he does not want any significant reduction in the nation’s debt unless it comes from new taxes. If he did, he would have endorsed the recommendations of his own National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (www.fiscalcommission.gov). He has not. The commission must have been a little too bi-partisan.

It appears there is a bluff to be called, as Mr. Obama mysteriously alluded to last week. House Republicans should call it.

We Americans elected congressional Republicans in convincing landslide fashion last fall. We chose them to be obstinate obstacles to the runaway spending train Messrs. Obama and Reid are conducting.

We want them to force government to live within its means. We want them to be the adults in the room.

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@kwt.info.

Reagan provides chess lesson

In his Twitter Town Hall Wednesday, President Obama described the D.C. debt ceiling debate as “esoteric,” meaning “understood by only an initiated few.” I had to look it up. I did not have to look up the definition of credit card limit.

The debt ceiling is basically the nation’s credit card limit with a major exception: raising the debt ceiling goes to pay expenses already incurred by your government.

“I overspent on my vacation. I better call American Express and raise my credit limit.” It seems backwards, but that’s how it works.

Hence the talk of worldwide financial Armageddon if Congress doesn’t raise the ceiling by August 2, the date on which the U.S. Treasury runs out of funds to pay the government’s bills. Who knows if mass chaos would actually happen? Accountants can do fancy tricks.

We do know that politicians on both sides are using the situation to inspect America’s fiscal future. Some reportedly worked through last holiday weekend (President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner).

For good reason. The debt ceiling has grown more in the last 10 years than it did in the previous 60 years. It is now at $14.3 trillion. Ten years ago it was under $6 trillion.

Republicans have said for months that they will not increase the debt ceiling without corresponding cuts to the federal budget. Democrats have said for years that they want to fleece the rich. Both sides claim they want to revamp entitlements and simplify the tax code. There appear to be enough pawns on the table to fashion a long-lasting solution.

President Reagan faced a similar chess table in 1982. Nation coming out of recession. High unemployment lingering. Spending needing bridled. Budget deficits looming. So, he signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, reversing some of the tax breaks he had signed into law the year before.

The law did not raise personal tax rates. It did remove some business deductions and it did raise taxes on employers for unemployment benefits. Reagan signed the bill with a promise from Congress to reduce spending by $3 for every $1 in additional tax revenue received.

Whether Congress stood up to its end of the bargain is debatable. Perhaps Reagan should have followed his own advice: trust but verify. Nevertheless, the episode can be instructive to Republican leaders today.

I’m not saying give in to Mr. Obama’s crusade to tax prosperity and production and redistribute the bounty. You can not multiply wealth by dividing it.

I am saying it is okay to eliminate loopholes and preferences in the tax code in order to level the playing field, and perhaps lower tax rates for all.

Following Reagan’s example, Republicans should not fear new revenue. Revenue is what we need to pay down debt. But only if it comes with a disproportionate share of spending reduction and entitlement reform. Lower spending and fewer entitlements are the ultimate checkmate.

Declarations and diary entries

“About the Declaration [of Independence] there is a finality that is exceedingly restful,” concluded President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 on the 150th anniversary of the document’s signing.

Coolidge added, “If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth … the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward.”

I wrestle at times with the status quo nature of political conservatism. How can I favor the novel, the advanced, the “progressive” in many areas of life but remain committed to “conserving” the governing philosophies of generations past?

Coolidge provides the answer. In the Declaration of Independence, we fundamentally have it as good as it gets this side of eternity. Sure, the practice of government can always improve in a dynamic world, but the theory needs no tinkering.

The beliefs bedrocked in the summer of 1776 can be summed this way: Government was made for people; people were not made for government. Conservative philosophy stands on this fundamental truth. Therefore, conservative principles permeate the Declaration.

The colonists wanted more local government; King George wanted centralized authority. The colonists wanted to limit taxation; George wanted to expand it. The colonists wanted more international trade; George wanted it stifled. The colonists wanted George’s army and bureaucrats out of their homes and lives; George wanted refrigerator rights.

No wonder George had a fight on his hands.

Today, conservatives fight in the spirit of the colonists against those who conveniently re-label modern liberalism as “progressivism.” Modern liberalism is actually “statism,” the belief that an individual’s personal pursuits should be quelled in favor of a collective utopian state (for more on this topic, see Mark Levin’s book “Liberty and Tyranny”).

Authentic liberalism – advocating the liberation of the burdened – was never more alive than in the summer of 1776. Ironically, this classical liberalism – the opposite of authoritarianism – laid the foundation for what we contemporary conservatives attempt to preserve today.

Colonial America witnessed an epic battle between freedom-loving people and an over-reaching government. Today, nonviolent battles over government’s proper role happen all around us. Why? Because the natural order in a fallen world is for power to expand and encroach.

As we peruse parades and barbecue brisket this weekend, let us not be unaware of or ill-prepared for the battles around us. Let us not write in our diaries on the days such battles occur what King George wrote in his on July 4, 1776: “Nothing of importance this day.”

Kevin Thompson is a former chief of staff in the Texas House of Representatives and current Vice President of Texas Heritage Bank in San Antonio. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


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