This article appeared in the 2017 summer issue of The Classroom Teacher.

By Jeri Stone, TCTA Executive Director

It seems entirely too early to start thinking about elections again, especially with the presidential election still echoing in our ears and being rehashed and dissected regularly by political commentators. But the 2018 elections in Texas, which are surprisingly close to some critical deadlines, are almost upon us.

The regular session and the special session, underway at the time of this writing, were disappointments for many, public schools and educators particularly. At a recent rally in which many of our members participated, organized by Texans for Public Education, there were occasional but regular chants of “vote them all out.” Clearly many educators are discontent with their current representation, and in many instances, understandably so. 

Voting them all out would be a major strategic error, since there are some legislators who have been nothing short of heroic in their efforts to fend off bad legislation in multiple instances. TCTA does not make endorsements, but there are times like this that it’s important to let you know that in the 2017 sessions particularly there have been good legislators, and bad legislators, and go along to get along legislators. For many legislators, the conventional wisdom is that their primary goal is always re-election, rather than any particular constituent issue. For some that’s probably true. But under the leadership of our governor and lieutenant governor, a new primary goal for too many has become to follow the dictates of a very conservative wing of the Republican party, whether that’s what the legislator’s constituents want or not. The governor can veto your legislation, and either help you or recruit an opponent for you in the upcoming elections. For senators, the lieutenant governor determines whether you’re on an important committee or in the Siberia of the most obscure and powerless, as well as whether your bills are heard on the floor, die in committee, or don’t even get a committee hearing. Those are powerful motivators to toe the line. 

TCTA is a bipartisan organization. The Texas Senate, in its current configuration, is not. With only a few exceptions, the vote count on the governor’s priority bills (which are also essentially the lieutenant governor’s priorities, since they’ve apparently linked arms) is within a vote or two of a strict 20-11 partisan breakdown. And the partisanship does not just occur in the Senate: the governor reportedly called Republican House members to meet with him and told them that he expected all of them to sign on to his list of priority items as co-sponsors within the next few days. Fortunately, the House is a more independent group by nature, which is not to suggest that the Republicans with their nearly 2/3 majority haven’t dominated the session, but they have proven far more resistant to being bossed around by the governor and lieutenant governor than has the other chamber.

Now to the urgency: most non-presidential elections in Texas are decided in the primary elections, not in the November general election, when many candidates won’t even have opponents. The filing period to run in the primary election for the 2018 elections (in which the governor and lieutenant governor will be up for re-election) is Nov. 11 through Dec. 11, 2017. If you have no choice in the primary, you may have no choice in the November 2018 general election. Most districts in Texas have been drawn to elect either a Republican or a Democrat, based on the assigned constituency in the district boundaries, so the primary is where the action is. And 1994 was the last time a Democrat was elected in Texas to a statewide office, and that includes the less widely known ones such as railroad commissioner or agricultural commissioner. At this point, it is not even clear that the governor and lieutenant governor are going to have viable opponents, unless the rumor that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick plans to run against Gov. Greg Abbott (a rumor which Patrick has repeatedly denied) is true. 

If you are not happy with your current representation, pay attention to potential challengers. If there is a public education-friendly school board member, mayor, city councilperson or other well-known and well-respected individual in your area, encourage them to run. Even though the education community can’t match the massive campaign contributions of certain individuals and interest groups, we have huge strength in numbers if mobilized. 

It seems as though many of you are ready to mobilize. We’ll be deploying your ACT For TCTA contributions as strategically as we can to change the tone at the Capitol, especially as it relates to public schools, their funding, their employees, and their benefits (including TRS-Care and active employee health insurance) in the upcoming election cycle. It only takes a few close races or defeated incumbents to make elected officials perk up and pay more attention to their constituents and less to big donors. 

In the coming months, we’ll be giving you more detailed information about the heroes and goats of the regular and special sessions. Please make public education a priority in determining how you vote, and be involved even before you go vote in the primaries. There are likely a fair number of incumbents who could benefit from just a little reteaching.