The saber and the compass: Can Greg Abbott save pre-K from the tea party machete?

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Good morning Austin:

I arrived midday yesterday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s grand opening of its grand, new, six-story, 41,000-square-foot building at 901 Congress Avenue, only 352 yards from the Capitol, with its Red McCombs Event Center, its 170-seat Joe B. Hogsett Theater with its 50-foot Travis letter, and its Governor Rick Perry Balcony with its splendid view of downtown and the Capitol, in plenty of time to hear the speechifying by Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott.

But by the time I got there, I had missed the governor’s arrival.

Apparently, I was told, as the governor rolled past the assembled members of the press, he imparted two pieces of information.

1. First puppy Pancake had taken ill the day before, had been frothing  at the mouth, after apparently swallowing a frog.

The very good news is that Pancake is OK.

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And, no, I don’t know why he swallowed a frog.

But if Callista Gingrich can produce a series of children’s books about Ellis the Elephant, I see no reason why First Lady Cecilia Abbott can’t turn Pancake into a successful children’s book franchise.

 

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And 2:

Yes indeed.

From my story:

“We are at a time of crisis, and Texas must lead the way out of these times of crisis,” Abbott said. “We have to fight our way through a thicket of growing government oppression using liberty as both the saber that will cut the pathway clear, as well as the compass that will point the direction in which we are to go.”

That’s a wonderfully compelling image. Government as a kind of strangling kudzu. And the governor there, thrashing at it with his saber, with only his liberty compass to guide him.

Only, it seem to me that cutting your way out of the thicket of government oppression – or any thicket for that matter – is more the job for a machete than a saber.

Sabers are more for …. rattling.

That’s what the governor was doing yesterday.

After a period of studied quietude as he goes about the serious business of governing, Abbott wanted to let off a little steam, reassure the troops he hasn’t gone all soft and insidery and Austin on them, and show he can still rattle his saber with the best of them.

As I wrote:

Three months into his tenure as governor, Abbott on Tuesday sounded more like the gubernatorial candidate of 2014 — or his one-time protégé U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination — than the more low-profile, low-key Gov. Abbott who has mostly stayed out of the limelight and kept his rhetoric firmly in check since being inaugurated.

In his State of the State speech in February he outlined a pragmatic agenda — with emergency items calling for spending for roads, pre-kindergarten, higher education research and border security, along with ethics reform and tax cuts — and since then has mostly worked behind the scenes to try to move his program through the Legislature.

But Tuesday’s speech, at a luncheon attended by 140 funders, staff and supporters for the think tank that has guided much of Republican thinking during the party’s two decades of dominance in Texas politics, demonstrated Abbott can be as fiery in his right-wing rhetoric as Cruz or any of the bevy of Republicans — including his predecessor as governor, Rick Perry — who are contemplating getting into the wide-open GOP presidential race.

Or, for that matter, Dan Patrick.

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Gov. Abbott speaks to TPPF as AG Ken Paxton looks on. (Deborah Cannon photo)

 

Lucky for America, Abbott said, there is still Texas standing tall against oppressive government interference. For example:

“Instead of a federal government that is trying to control school curriculum through mandates, Texas has outlawed Common Core, and now we’re working to give parents even more freedom by giving them the power to choose the school that is best for their child,” Abbott said

But, as the governor learned yesterday, one man’s or woman’s Common Core is another man’s or woman’s pre-K  plan.

While it is certainly possible, as Abbott is, to be opposed to the Common Core and in favor of his pre- kindergarten initiative, it’s a whole lot easier to be in favor of both, or against both.

After all, it’s a slippery slope from a pre-K pilot program to full-on, it-takes-a-village kibbutzism and Barack Obama/Wendy Davis style pre-K for all.

From the American-Statesman’s  Kiah Collier:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s hand-picked tea party advisory board denounced legislation Tuesday containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s pre-kindergarten improvement plan as “socialistic” and “a threat to parental rights,” exacerbating an already strained relationship between Texas’ top Republican leaders.

“We are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade,” the letter said of two Abbott-backed bills — House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 801.

It was signed by 18 members of Patrick’s so-called Grassroots Advisory Board, which the Texas Senate’s presiding officer created in January — the month he was sworn into office and the Legislature convened — as part of a larger effort to more closely involve citizens in the legislative process.

But Patrick immediately sought to distance himself from the letter in a statement Tuesday, saying it “was unsolicited and expresses the individual viewpoints of Texas citizens.

“We had no advance notice of the letter and saw it for the first time after it had been distributed,” he said.

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The legislation would divvy up additional pre-K funding —$130 million in the House bill — among school districts that meet certain state quality standards and that create a “parental involvement” plan. To the Grassroots Advisory Board, that sum would be a “great cost to taxpayers,” but critics on the other side of the debate have said it’s insufficient, in part because it wouldn’t help all districts offer the full-day program they say a vast body of research indicates is beneficial to young children.

The two bills wouldn’t expand free preschool beyond the population of children currently eligible for it: 4-year-olds from low-income, non-English-speaking or military families. Although an exact price tag hasn’t been determined, the measures also don’t seek to restore a $200 million pre-K grant program state lawmakers gutted in 2011, which didn’t require the kind of quality standards and data reporting Abbott has demanded.

Under both bills, participation would be voluntary — as it is now.

“This interference by the State tramples upon our parental rights,” the advisory board wrote in its letter. “The early removal of children from parents’ care is historically promoted in socialistic countries, not free societies which respect parental rights. The Welfare State has resulted in the breakdown of the American family.”

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, who authored the Senate pre-K bill, said that “to associate Gov. Abbott’s pre-K initiative with socialism and with parents not loving their children is complete nonsense.”

From Jay Root’s story in the Texas Tribune, which provided a link to the letter.

 Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, author of the bill in the Senate, said she was “surprised and disappointed” to see the letter from Patrick’s advisers.

“It seems rather strange that they would take a stand like that against a bill that is the priority of the governor,” she added. 

Abbott has fought vociferously for his pre-K plan, which has already passed the House. It would give about $130 million, or some $1,500 per eligible student, in additional funding to school districts that adopt certain curriculum and teacher quality standards in their pre-K programs, as well as a “parent engagement plan.”

The letter underscores the potential for trouble in the relationship between Abbott and Patrick, who are far different stylistically and could be on a collision course over both education and taxes. After Abbott moved away last week from his earlier vow to “insist” on property tax reduction — considered Patrick’s top priority in the Senate — Patrick ignored the shift and invoked Abbott’s name as if the governor had chosen his plan over a competing one in the House.

In a statement, Patrick also said he would “not support any budget that does not have property tax relief.” Both chambers must pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins in September. Without a budget in hand before the regular session ends June 1, the Legislature will have to pass one in a potentially high-stakes special session this summer.

While the latest flare-up didn’t come directly from Patrick, it suggests that pre-K could be a new front in a power struggle pitting moderate and conservative Republicans against each other — with Abbott caught in the middle. Patrick’s advisory board appears to be beyond convincing when it comes to pre-K programs.

And, from Bobby Cervantes in the Houston Chronicle:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has spent much of this legislative session both channeling and undercutting Gov. Greg Abbott. Nobody is more aware of this than Patrick himself, whose few months as the Senate’s leader have shown more than anything that he is cutting his own path to higher office.

On Tuesday, another front opened in the path to implement Patrick’s agenda. His Grassroots Advisory Board said it stands “united in strong opposition” to two pre-K funding bills making their way through the legislature and which are priority items for Abbott. The bills are a “threat to parental rights,” the group said in a fire-and-brimstone, hyperbolic letter first published by The Texas Tribune, adding that they are the “first step towards the implementation of universal pre-K.”

From a subsequent Facebook post from Julie White McCarty, head of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, and a member of the lieutenant governor’s advisory committee:

Well, somebody had to say it because 128 of our electeds sure weren’t standing up to the Governor! I am proud to be a member of this advisory board who released this statement today. Unfortunately there is confusion on whether Patrick was given a head’s up regarding our opinion letter. He certainly should have received one. If he did not, apologies are needed, but our stance is solid and remains intact. This pre-K bill is bad for Texas, bad for the budget, bad for kids and bad for families. Many thanks to Representatives Dustin Burrows, Patrick Fallon, Stephanie Klick, Matthew Krause, Jeff Leach, Matt Rinaldi, Matt Schaefer, Matt Shaheen, David Philip Simpson, Stuart Spitzer, Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, Scott Turner, Molly White, Bill Zedler, Dennis Paul and Debbie Riddle for their courageous “NO” votes. I hear the pressure from Abbott was intense.

And this from an email exchange with Julie this morning:

The Governor giving a “red meat” speech reminds me of his speech to NETTP during the campaign trail.  I was only slightly on board with him at the time, but he chose our venue to launch his list of intentions for office.  It was good stuff.  Very strong.  Very tea party friendly.  I was encouraged that maybe Abbott really did “get it.”  Unfortunately, now that he actually holds office, not one of those issues he listed has been addressed, and instead he’s pushing for Pre-K.  Pre-K was not mentioned in his “red meat” speech to NETTP! 
The Pre-K program is opposed universally by tea partiers.  In fact, even some of my less politically active friends and more moderate friends can see this for what it is…  free daycare on the back of the taxpayers and further deterioration of the family unit… all with no true monetary limits.  Education funding is a mess.  Austin always tries to fix it by throwing more money at it.  But as others have said, if we cannot get it right with grades K-12, what business do we have adding Pre-K?  It’s madness.

We pause here for some scripture:

Galatians 6:7-9King James Version (KJV)
7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
King James Version (KJV)

In a previous First Reading on Feb. 4, I wrote about Gov. Abbott positioning himself as a national foe of Common Core, and tried to puzzle out why.

On Sunday, Gov. Abbott debated former Education Secretary William Bennett on the Common Core standards on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

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I mean, why would the governor go on national television as the point man against Common Core and as his coup de grâce urge viewers to look at a video that shows a teacher employing a method that is identical to that contained within Texas’ own standards.

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Or perhaps Abbott’s appearance on Fox as the national point man against Common Core has something to do with inoculating himself against criticism that his appointment of Martinez Tucker reveals him to be soft on the Obamacare of education standards.

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Lurking beneath this, is, I think, a longing for one-room schooldays of boys in overalls and girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder prairie dresses sharing their McGuffey Readers (“the child modeled in this book is prompt, good, kind, honest and truthful) and reciting, in unison, their times tables, a sharp rap on the knuckles for any act of errancy, and nothing in the lesson plan on evolution, climate change or this thing called Base 10.

The peril for Gov. Abbott, is that I don’t think there was any gold-standard pre-K program on the prairie.

Martinez Tucker, referred to above is  Sara Martinez Tucker, who Abbott named to the UT System Board of Regents.

As Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of Empower Texans, wrote at the time of her appointment:

Coming out of the gate with appointments, the team advising Gov. Greg Abbott seems to have made an initial early misstep by appointing an advocate of “common core” to the University of Texas board of regents. This is most surprising, given the strong stance Abbott has taken in opposing Common Core in specific and the federalization of education in general.

Among Abbott’s appointees to the UT Board of Regents announced on Thursday is Sara Martinez Tucker, the CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative. Writing in US News and World Report in February of 2014, she praised the controversial Common Core initiative being promoted by the Obama Administration.

“We should move the discussion to ‘how’ Common Core will be implemented – not ‘if’ Common Core should be implemented,” she wrote.

Suffice it to say, the governor did not consider the appointment of Martinez Tucker a “misstep,” and his office did not brook any opposition to her nomination.

From the American-Statesman’s Ralph Haurwitz on March 11:

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved Gov. Greg Abbott’s nominees for the University of Texas System Board of Regents — but not without some opposition.

Ah, so wait, Common Core Martinez Tucker ran into some headwinds, eh?

No.

David Beck, a Houston lawyer, won a seat on the prestigious board by a 27-3 vote. Steve Hicks, a current regent and businessman from Austin, was approved 28-2. The vote for Sara Martinez Tucker of Dallas, CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, was 30-0.

30 zip.

 

Frying eggs on the sidewalk

From my story yesterday:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who preceded the governor speaking at the luncheon, said he was following in Abbott’s footsteps by suing the U.S. Labor Department for redefining “spouse” to include same-sex couples in the Family and Medical Leave Act, adding, “We filed that lawsuit in Wichita Falls. We thought that would be a great place for Department of Justice lawyers to spend their summer.”

Abbott, who was born in Wichita Falls, said it was “hot as H-E-double-toothpicks” there in the summer, recalling his mother cooking a fried egg on the sidewalk one July day. “I hope you cook those federal lawyers,” Abbott told Paxton.

Abbott said his mother fried the egg on the Wichita Falls sidewalk as a demonstration for him and his brother.

But a reader sent this link from Everyday Mysteries:

This question comes from the saying “It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk!” How many kids, hearing it, actually try? Most likely they end up with a mess resembling scrambled eggs more than one sunny-side up. So what’s the problem?

An egg needs a temperature of 158°F to become firm. In order to cook, proteins in the egg must denature (modify), then coagulate, and that won’t happen until the temperature rises enough to start and maintain the process.

The sidewalk presents several challenges to this. According to an experiment reported in Robert Wolke’s book, What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, sidewalk temperatures can vary depending on the composition of the sidewalk, whether it is in direct sunlight, and of course, the air temperature. Dark objects absorb more light, so blacktop paving would be hotter than concrete. More often than not, sidewalks are concrete. Wolke found that a hot sidewalk might only get up to 145°F. Once you crack the egg onto the sidewalk, the egg cools the sidewalk slightly. Pavement of any kind is a poor conductor of heat, so lacking an additional heat source from below or from the side, the egg will not cook evenly.

Something closer to the conditions of a frying pan would be the hood of a car. Metal conducts heat better and gets hotter, so people actually have been able to cook an egg on a car hood’s surface.

Still, the idea of cooking an egg on a sidewalk won’t die. It is so intriguing that the city of Oatman, Arizona, hosts an annual Solar Egg Frying Contest on the 4th of July. Contestants get 15 minutes to make an attempt using solar (sun) power alone. Oatman judges, however, do allow some aids, such as mirrors, aluminum reflectors, or magnifying glasses, which would help to focus the heat onto the egg itself. It turns out that eggs also have a bit of an advantage in Arizona, the land of low humidity and high heat. Liquids evaporate rapidly when humidity is low. The eggs have a bit of “help” while they cook, and they dry out faster.

I bet you were wondering what is the origin of the saying? It’s not clear, although there is a reference to it in the Los Angeles Times on October 5, 1933, and even as far back as June 11, 1899, in The Atlanta Constitution–so the idea had captured the American imagination and become one of our common sayings by that time. And what about the other saying, “it’s so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs?” Well, what do you think?

Well, maybe Everyday Mysteries has never been to Wichita Falls.

And maybe “those federal lawyers” can try their hand at frying an egg on the sidewalk this summer.

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