Happy Labor Day!

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This coming Monday, many of us will take a well-deserved break from our jobs and have an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.   The day is a celebration of the American worker, and we should all take a moment to reflect on the meaning of this holiday.   Americans are known worldwide as a people who value work.  The idea of work is fundamental to who we are as Americans.  At its best, work in America is innovative, progressive, and built on ideas that do everything from building the great infrastructures we rely on to providing the services we use every day of our lives.


Current data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell us that our unemployment rate is about 3.9 – 4.0%.  It’s great news; it means that those looking for work are finding jobs.  Because of a tighter job market, wages usually tend to rise as employers compete for a relatively smaller pool of employees.   The situation today is a result of an economy that has recovered from a devastating recession a decade ago.  Back then, we were shedding about 700 thousand jobs a month.  It was a time of crisis.  Times are very different today.


It’s important to understand that the good news comes with some objective truths:  there is much more work to be done.  While the employment news is positive, deeper scrutiny shows that much of the working population in this country is still struggling.  Since the mid-1970’s, wages of the average worker have remained effectively flat, only moving between 1-2% per year.   This fact, coupled with the continued increase in the cost of living for such things as healthcare, is putting the American worker further behind on their ability to purchase a home, reduce student loan debt, or to save for retirement.  As a result, many are resorting to working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Most economists agree that the reasons the average American isn’t seeing their pay increase with the growth of the economy is due to globalization of labor, automation of industry, and a decline in union membership since the ‘70s – which will depress wages for both union workers and non-union workers alike.  I feel we should address this issue through public policy decisions that will help the working people in this country see more of the fruits of their labor during one of the most productive economic periods in our history.


Work’s important. It’s obviously something that allows us to pay for the expenses of living, but it also helps us find our purpose. There is an old maxim of “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.  That is true for many. For others, work is a means to an end. It’s a stepping stone for the next opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow to take on more responsibility or challenges.  Work can provide dignity. You get to come home at the end of the day, knowing you’ve done something worthwhile, provided for your family, and have some pride in the results of your efforts.  That’s something that we all appreciate.   


As we enjoy the short break the holiday brings, let’s remember a couple of things: we are blessed to live in a country where opportunity is greater for people to work and grow than in other parts of the world, and we also need to remember that it is the worker that keeps the massive economic engine that generates the most productive country in modern history chugging along.    


I hope you all have a terrific holiday!
 

E Pluribus Unum

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E Pluribus Unum.   A Latin phrase that means “Out of Many, One”.  It has been a motto of the United States since the birth of the nation. First minted on coins in 1795, the motto is significant in that it describes perfectly what the United States is.  We are a nation of many, with a singular idea. That idea sprang to life on July 4, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence. The most impressive part of the document to me is when Jefferson set the framework for the idea of what an American actually is:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.“ Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the rest of the founding fathers did not know at the time if the independence would last. They did not know if a country would actually be born out of the rejection of  rule from the British.  What they did know, as Benjamin Franklin allegedly said, wast that, “We will either hang together or hang separately”. He meant that for this rejection of imperial rule and a movement toward democracy, the country had to unify.  Survival was not guaranteed.  The 13 colonies who joined in the Declaration were more different than similar. Southerners from Virginia had little in common with the New Englanders from Massachusetts. There was conflict between the colonies on commerce, religion, and every other conceivable topic. It was with an enormous amount of risk as well as faith, that our country was born.

In the 242 years since we declared our independence, we have seen the idea of America tested repeatedly.  153 years ago, the most terrible test of our history concluded with the Union remaining intact after a Civil War that saw over 600 thousand Americans die during a conflict that ripped the country apart.  Since that time, we have endured conflict both abroad and at home,  fighting fascism or racial injustice, and other numerous internal conflicts that appeared at times to be the end of the American experiment.  

We’ve also seen breathtaking achievements, from developing new methods of agriculture to feed millions around the world, to perfecting the genius of mass production, electrification of rural communities, development of new medicines such as the vaccine that cured polio, and perhaps the single greatest achievement of mankind to date, putting humans on the lunar surface and bringing them home safely.

Throughout our history, this country would not have accomplished as much without people from all around the world coming to our shores to join in the American Experience.  Almost all of us are descendants of immigrants who came to America for a better life. Our ancestors left their homes, traveled far, risked much, and became the foundation of the country we continue to build.  The fruits of their labors and the lessons regarding the work ethic, the faith, the unwavering belief that this country would be the best place for themselves and their families are a gift to those of us who followed.

America is and will continue to be the beacon of freedom and liberty for the world.  Those men gathered in Independence Hall long ago decided that the risk, the sacrifice, and the idea of America would be worth it.  They were right.

What Good Businesses Do

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One phrase you often hear from politicians – and you usually don't hear it from politicians on the left side of the spectrum – is that “the government should be run more like a business.”  

And to that I say, hell yes.  Let’s do it. But let’s not run it like a crappy business.

I first joined the working world in June of 1985.  I was the fifteen year old kid with the fluorescent vest and the orange flag on the road crew, waving traffic past while they were tearing up the main street of my town.  My very first day, my supervisor Dave walks up and tells me I’m standing in the wrong place.

“I need ya to stand over there, right in front of the backhoe.”

And because I am the same now as I was then, I decided it was very important to give him some feedback.  “I will, definitely, if those are your wishes, but, I think I’m much more visible standing here than I would be over there by the backhoe.”

“Yeah, but you stand over by the backhoe and people would have to run you over before they could run into the backhoe, and that backhoe’s worth a heckuva lot more to me than you are.”

And that’s a great lesson for day one!  Since that day I’ve worked in a lot of companies.  I’ve worked in big ones and small ones, ones that did business all over the world and ones that covered a tiny neighborhood.  I’ve designed payment processing systems for international internet retailers and I’ve made cappuccinos. I’ve harvested roses from a greenhouse and I’ve negotiated contracts worth millions.  I know business from every level, from the basement to the executive floor. And I have a lot of experience in what makes a crappy business and what makes a good one.

Good businesses invest in research and development.  Crappy businesses cut it when the market becomes challenging.  And then they come out on the other side of a challenging patch, and they have nothing new to offer, while their competitors have been developing new products and services, so it's 24-7-365 bad patch from then on. With nothing new to offer your customers, they’re going to go somewhere else.  Our state’s main resource is our people – our workforce - and our R&D is our educational system, both K through 12 and Higher Education.

When we invest in public education, we’re developing a workforce of the future, and if we do that, we’ll attract the businesses of the future here.  The businesses of the future are looking for employees that are as sharp and agile as the companies are; employees that can reason their way out of challenging situations with creative solutions.  I have yet to meet a recruiter that's told me, "What we're really looking for is employees that perform well on standardized tests."  One of the things you learn in business is that “what gets measured gets done.” We’re only measuring one thing.  Why not design our public school system so that we’re actually developing the workforce that we want, and measure the things we want instead? And this can be a targeted investment, because – and this may shock you – we already know what to do to generate successfully educated students, we just choose not to.  If we invest in universal pre-K, smaller class sizes, and teacher benefits, it will have direct economic benefits to this state. We just have to look into the future to see them and stop looking at only what’s happening right now. That’s what good businesses do.

And we could also have a world-class economic model similar to what they have in Silicon Valley or more recently in the Raleigh Durham Research Triangle of North Carolina, where tech business is growing like gangbusters these days.  What do both those places have in common? Those states invested in research facilities for higher education as a specific focus, and those universities generated highly educated people ready to start global businesses right in their own backyards.  

Good businesses invest in supply chain and infrastructure – moving things from where they are to where they need to be.  If everything keeps heading in the direction it’s headed, many many more people are coming to this area and this state. Would you say that our supply chain is optimized for handling 50% more people?  Well if you were on any highway in the Metroplex during daylight any weekday, I bet you’d say no.  It’s not even sufficient to cover the load we have right now, and what’s the plan for more?  More toll roads? Arlington recently decided to sell all its buses and try a corporation that does Uber, but like Uber for public transportation. So instead of moving 15 people at a time, you can move two. We need to do better to swiftly move people and resources around this state, and we need to do it in ways that aren’t carbon intensive.  One of the requirements Amazon had for its second headquarters was a well-developed public transportation system. We’ve got the start of one, and it’s growing, but we could do better. If we were able to quickly move people from every corner of the four main counties of the Metroplex to any other corner, imagine the economic benefit of that. Now expand that thinking: what if we were quickly able to move people by bullet train from any major city in Texas to any other city?  Imagine the economic benefit of allowing someone to commute to work – from Houston to Dallas – in an hour and a half?

So those things sound great, right?  But usually the next question is: where’s that money going to come from?  Well that leads me to the next thing good businesses do: they charge their customers a fair price for their products.  They don’t give it away. Right now the State of Texas is letting big businesses walk all over them because they believe that they have to throw money at businesses, or they won’t want to locate here.  Kansas tried it too, a little while back, and it didn’t work there either. A business will take a steep discount if you throw one at them, and cost of location is certainly one thing they consider, but there’s a laundry list of other things they consider.  Like an educated workforce. Like transportation infrastructure. Like access to natural resources. And like a cultural fit. Also: how good are the tacos? We’re not Kansas. We can charge a fair price to corporations in order to build a state that more corporations will want to come to.

And I suspect the reason we don’t do that is because our leaders are doing things that good businesses don’t do: they’re only listening to the corporations.  What I’ve discovered working at agile companies, where things change quickly, is that you need to bring all the stakeholders together, as often as possible, to develop the best solutions.  And the people you bring together need to bring very diverse perspectives and requirements, because when you only hear one side of the story, you tend to come up with really bad decisions.  That’s what bad businesses do.

I had the privilege of sitting down to lunch with a community leader last week, and he has a doctorate in management studies, and he said, “when you get right down to it, there are really only two emotions that move people to do stuff – we put some window dressing on them and call them other things, but there are really only two: love and fear.”  Our leaders right now are motivating us right now with fear, like “our women are at risk for assault from transgenders in the restroom,” or, “MS 13 is invading our southern borders” or “Muslims are trying to implement Sharia Law everywhere” or “liberals are coming for your guns.” I was actually called a “baby killing pussy hat wearing DEMONcrat” earlier this week.  So fear works. But think about your own job history. Think about the best boss you ever had. Did they use fear or love to motivate you? My favorite was a different Dave – not the one that loved the backhoe. He was the Dave that loved his job, and the people that worked for him. He didn’t go around hugging people all the time, but you knew where you stood with him.  He was an expert at communicating his vision to you and getting you to want that bright future too. That’s the kind of leader that good businesses have. Crappy businesses focus on the bottom line to the detriment of everything else.  Good businesses know that if you focus on the people doing the work for you, good work naturally follows.  They hire leaders that understand that simple truth.  I’m striving to be that kind of leader for you, every day, because in the long run, love works better than fear.

Thoughts from Juneteenth

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Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a Juneteenth celebration hosted by the North Central Texas Alumni Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Inc.  It was truly an honor to be with such an active and passionate group of people focused on improving young women’s lives. The sorority is doing terrific work. The outreach to young women and the assistance they are providing to help them realize their goals is an outstanding model of positive activism.  

The event was at the Tarrant County College – North East campus, who did a fantastic job of setting up the event.

Singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" with the rest of the audience, I got to thinking about the importance of celebrating freedom.  

When General Gordon Granger of the Union Army, read General Order 3 from the balcony of the Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas on yesterday's date in 1865, he probably was not aware that he’d marked an event whose celebration would extend formally to 45 of 50 states in the union and be celebrated in places as far away as Paris, France.

Juneteenth is a day of celebration.  The 154 years since the slaves in Texas were declared free have seen a long and winding road toward justice and equality.  There have been significant steps and significant missteps, and as we continue forward, it will not always be a straight line. However, we need to maintain the faith and confidence that we will stay on the path toward progress for all.

I truly thought on election night 2008, watching a vibrant man with his beautiful wife and children acknowledging the crowds in Grant Park, that we had finally turned a corner toward getting rid of the societal sickness that is bigotry and prejudice.  I believed in “Yes we can!”. My heart was full, and hope and optimism were in the air. You know what? I still feel this way!  I still feel like the country is growing away from the turbulence and rancor of the past toward a future of cooperation and progress.   I feel a sense of enthusiasm and optimism. But I no longer feel it coming from Washington.

The most recent election in 2016 has brought storm clouds to the horizon. The old miseries of hate, prejudice and suspicion have visited us again and this time they seem to be encouraged by the people in power.   Since the election, we have seen a rise of hate crimes in this country. We’ve seen a President give equivalence to White Supremacists and protestors decrying racism and nativism. We have seen people of color treated in the most egregious manner, recurring repeatedly and with seemingly blistering acceleration.

People of color, immigrants, people of different religions are all anxious and concerned today  - as they should be.  More and more the voices of nativism and white supremacy are finding false courage under the cover of a government that is intentionally trying to set white against black or brown, straight against gay, and Christian against Muslim.   Why? I don’t honestly know. It certainly isn’t to heal the country and “Make America Great Again”. There is a better way to show the world that America is and should be a beacon of hope to the world, and those who are part of this nation, whether newly arrived or multi-generational Americans.  

We show the forces of cynicism that our differences are nothing compared to our similarities. We show them that we are “Out of Many, one”, in that we have the same objectives for our nation; a safe home for our children, a place where the sick and hungry can be served, a place of innovation and opportunity for those who show by their works and not their appearances, that they too are part of the great American experience.

Here is why I’m optimistic.  I’m optimistic because of the Women’s March in 2017.  I’m optimistic because I saw teenagers in the midst of tragedy stand up and be leaders, challenging the old and tired responses to the shooting in Parkland, Florida. I’m optimistic because of Black Lives Matter, I am optimistic because I saw the real America in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, where white was helping black, black was helping white, Muslims helping Christians and Christians helping Muslims escape the flood waters.  There was no regard to skin color, creed, orientation or religious belief. It was people helping people for no gain, no profit, no political benefit. Just acts of kindness and heroism telling us “we are all in this together”.

We know we have problems today.   We know it’s not right to tear children from their mother’s arms who did nothing more than attempting to come to this country for safety.   We know this isn’t right. We also know it's temporary. We know this because we have seen the hard-fought victories of the past and that this new generation of Americans are just as committed to justice as those that came before.

I believe in this country. I believe in the people of this nation will come to see the right path forward.  I also believe that we must be active participants in finding that path. As James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

We have voices to speak with our friends about the nation we want to be, we have legs to carry us to meet new friends and encourage their participation, and most of all, we have votes we must use to bring the change we seek.  We have the ability to revive hope and see progress come -- but we must act.

Healthcare - We're Paying More Than We Should

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I’m passionate about a few key issues here in the state of Texas.  One of them is the need for all Texans to have high quality healthcare.   To be more specific, ensuring our children have access to high quality healthcare, regardless of their economic position.

The state of Texas spends lot of money.  Our State Budget is approximately $130B per year.   Of that $130B, about $40B or 31% of those funds are spent on Medicaid.   Medicaid is the medical assistance program passed in 1965 to provide healthcare coverage and assistance to low income and elderly Americans.   The success of the program has been overwhelmingly positive, in that it has provided coverage for millions of Americans who might otherwise not be able to afford the care, forcing them to forego treatment or pay out-of-pocket costs for their healthcare.

A few facts about Medicare (information sourced from the American Academy of Pediatrics)

  • Medicaid is an example of Federalism working at its best.  The Medicaid program is a Federal-State program where funds are sent by the Federal government to the states based on a variety of factors.  The Federal government provides some guidelines and standards, but states are free to establish their own standards on eligibility, benefits and how they pay providers.
  • In Texas, Medicaid coverage is paid with about 57% of the dollars coming from the Federal government while the state’s share is about 43%.  
  • Medicaid is mainly focused on low income children, with about 30 million children covered nationwide through the program.  In Texas, there are about 2.7 million children currently covered through Medicaid and the associated Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • One of the long-term benefits of Medicaid is the fact that the sooner children are given quality healthcare, the better their lifelong health will be.  This results in down the line savings in terms of cost avoidance for more expensive treatments later, but also helps reduce loss productivity by having healthier people in the work force.
  • Medicaid expenditures are tightly controlled and, while this often results in lower payments to providers (which needs to be addressed), it is on balance a more cost-effective program than similar private insurance.

Here in Texas, with a population of 28 million people, almost 27 percent or 7.4 million people are under the age of 18.   In this state right now, there are about 2.6 million children enrolled in the Medicaid program with another 682 thousand, or 9.5%, who are eligible but not enrolled.  This is something we need to work on in Austin. We need to make sure that all children who need it have access to this program.  Efforts within the legislature to trim or tighten up Medicaid coverage should be opposed with vigor.   Cutting services to the citizens of Texas seems to be the prime directive of our current representatives.  In this case, for every $1.00 cut from Medicaid, Texas loses $1.28 dollars in Federal matching funds. 

In 2010, the landmark Affordable Care Act was passed, and with that legislation, the opportunity for states to expand Medicaid coverage to provide access to more people.  Unfortunately, due to politics, in 2015, Governor Gregg Abbott decided to forego the expansion, which would have been covered 100% by the Federal government for the first two years and then 90% thereafter through the year 2020.  The refusal by the state cost Texas billions of dollars that could have provided healthcare and long-term care for people with disabilities, and those requiring nursing care for millions of people.

It is vitally important to protect this program.  It is important to expand Medicaid as provided for by the Affordable Care Act.  We can help hundreds of thousands of additional children, people with disabilities who are low-income, and elderly folks who need nursing home care.   If I am fortunate enough to be your representative in Austin come next January, I can assure you that I will fight hard to make sure Medicaid is protected.

Property Taxes - Homeowners Are Shouldering the Burden

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We’ve all heard the saying “The only certain things in life are death and taxes”.   While this is true, the tax part does carry some uncertainty. That uncertainty is “How much am I going to have to pay”?  

We all pay taxes. Some people like to say, "Taxation is theft!" but from my perspective it's an odd kind of thief that breaks into your home, takes a few dollars from you and then gives you roads, emergency services, trash collection and schools. Reasonable people understand, and have always understood, that taxes are the price of admission for living in an ordered society.  In Texas, most of the taxes gathered by the state, county and local governments come in the form of sales taxes and property taxes.

Texas is one of 7 states in the nation that does not have a state income tax, so our property taxes, which are determined by an assessment of a percentage of value of our homes or commercial property, represent a big chunk of the revenue of our local communities - 37%.  Texas law allows local governments to collect and use property taxes to fund services that improve our lives and make our towns places we want to live.  

There has been a lot of discussion about property tax increases across the state recently. The Texas government has made several attempts to deal with the issue but - like with many other issues, such as education - have consistently failed to make coherent improvements in the taxation methods in use.

One of the major issues with property taxes today is the inequity between residential property and commercial property.  While residential property owners have some ability to affect their tax rates other than homestead exemptions, commercial property owners have a major tool in their toolbox to challenge property tax assessments. It’s called “Unequal Appraisal” and allows a company to gather comparable properties in the district and if those properties are assessed at a lower value, then the company can claim their taxes should be lowered to that comparable amount.  An amendment to the taxation code passed in 1997 created an easier, cheaper way to claim unequal appraisal and gain an automatic reduction in value—so easy that it is now routinely used in tax protests and dominates big-ticket litigation. You simply select a “reasonable” number of “comparable” properties, adjust their values up or down and find the median—the middle number on the list. If your valuation is higher than the median, it gets lowered to the median number.

If for some reason the Unequal Appraisal gambit doesn’t work, a corporation can sue the taxation authority.  Big corporations such as a major energy producer will often employ this tactic to gain a settlement with the taxing authority thereby reducing their tax obligation.  Because many large corporations plan for this type of litigation, it gets baked into their financial plans and is considered a cost of doing business. Meanwhile, the residential property owner in the area doesn’t have the financial resources to litigate toward a settlement that will reduce their tax burden. So a shift of tax liability moves from a company to an individual, and because the taxing district needs a certain amount of money to provide the services necessary to its citizens, the residential property will see their property tax levels increase with little remedy other than a tax protest.   

We need to find a better way of apportioning the tax burden across the citizens of this state. Corporations who make use of common services should not get off so easily when it comes to paying for roads, bridges, schools for the children of their employees or other services such as emergency responders and hospitals.  

The Texas legislature needs to take a hard look at how property taxes are determined across the state, and consider a new approach.  It is an issue that deserves some serious review, because many residential property tax owners are seeing their properties valued to the point that they cannot deal with the tax burden, often forcing them to sell their homes and move to a home of lower value.

Texans are reasonable people. We know we need to pay our fair share of taxes for all of us to enjoy our state and have services when we need them. The critical factor is how these taxes are determined and if they are equitable across all prospective tax payers.

Education Funding - We Lost Sight of the Mission

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As many of you know, one of the primary responsibilities of the government of Texas is to provide education for our kids. It’s so important, it's written in the Constitution of the State of Texas.  The mission as identified in Article VII, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

The Constitution is clear in the mandate for education. The Legislature has a duty to establish an efficient system of public free schools.  The current situation within our state is far from efficient. While several attempts to solve the issues have been put before the House and Senate in Texas, no tangible improvements have been achieved. The legislature has become such a polarized and divisive environment that it is woefully incapable of addressing the problems with funding education in Texas.

Since 2011, the budget appropriations for education have been inconsistent and inadequate to the requirements of the more than 1,000 independent school districts in the state.   The state has historically provided roughly half of the funding required to maintain public schools.  In the last 7 years, that funding level has dropped to roughly 38% of funding from the state, which in turn forces the local school districts to either reduce costs or make up the balance by raising property taxes.  Neither alternative is an attractive option for the districts. Reducing costs means reducing arts, athletics and other services that enrich a child’s education, or raising property taxes within the local community which places a hardship on the people of the community.

The central currency of the Legislature is trust. Trust is keeping commitments and resolving the tough problems that face the citizens of the state.  We expect our representatives in Austin to solve problems and we trust that working for the common good will overcome any political differences that exist among the members of the legislature.  We trust they will ultimately do the right thing. When that trust is breached, confidence in the legislature erodes.   People seek to place blame for inaction and we become more and more polarized.  Division between the political parties causes more gridlock. With more gridlock there is less accomplished and as a result, dissatisfaction with the representation in Austin increases.  It is not surprising to see the citizens of the state view of Texas Legislature in such a negative light.

We must do better. It is imperative for the people we send to Austin to pass laws, support the Constitutional mandates like the delivery of an efficient public education system, and to do so in a spirit of cooperation and achievement.  That spirit of cooperation and achievement for the common good doesn’t exist today.  Our representatives have failed to maintain the trust they were given when elected.  It is time to change the attitudes in Austin and to not accept inaction or gridlock.  The education of our children is the most important investment we as a state can make for our future.  A good education system that is properly funded attracts companies and jobs.  It elevates the value of the communities and neighborhoods.  It gives the student the tools they need to become productive adults.  We cannot find short cuts to this issue and must do the hard work necessary to make the education system in Texas the envy of the country. 

Please remember when you vote in November that we must elect officials who have the courage, the will and the commitment to rectify the existing problems within the education system in Texas.  This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an issue for all Texans and we can demand no less than a solution to this problem that provides every student in this state with the education they need.

Love Trumps Hate - Guest Contribution from Jenn G. Cohen

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I was gratified to see Salman Bhojani's win in the Euless City Council race on Saturday, especially after all the public unpleasantness that had been directed at him and his family.  I knew I had to say something about what I'd seen from Salman: how hard he worked, the energy and effort and passion he was directing at helping his community, despite some members of the community responding with fear and hatred.  I knew I had to say something about how proud I was - both of him and of the city that I live in - that he'd won, in spite of the divisiveness.  But I was struggling to find the words.  And then my friend Jenn G. Cohen wrote something on social media that said what I'd been feeling, better than I ever could.  Presented without edit, "Love Trumps Hate," by Jenn G. Cohen.

♡Love trumps Hate♡

This is a catchphrase I see pretty often, lately, and I always wonder - do people really understand what it means? We got to see it at work last night as the city council election results rolled in, and it is a truly beautiful thing, y'all.

See, what it DOESN'T mean is "the guy/party I love won, and beat the guy/party I hate." That's not it. No, ma'am .

It means that if we lead with love - love of our fellow humans and animals and planet- then love will always guide you to the right choices.

Last night it meant that a man with a genuine ♡LOVE♡ of his town and its citizens, won an election. He triumphed over a woman who openly posts about what and who she HATES.

He ran as dad concerned about his town. As an immigrant who literally personifies the American Dream, working his way up from a cash register at a gas station, all the way to becoming a lawyer and opening his own practice. He ♡LOVES♡ this country, and is proud to be here. He ♡LOVES♡ his fellow humans enough to do pro bono work with his law firm. Anyone who met this man, volunteered with his campaign, or heard him speak felt nothing but ♡LOVE♡ and light pour out of him.

His opponent was a woman who posts xenophobic rhetoric and memes. Someone who belittles and demoralizes. She was financially backed by people who believe the words "immigrant" and "Muslim" are slurs you hurl at people who are beneath you. This was a campaign fueled by HATE.

The folks in this town said loud and clear last night that hate has no home here. We won't tolerate it, we've had enough.

B asked me the other night about politics and how to vote. I told him honestly, that I won't ever tell you *how* to vote, but I will teach you *why*.

If you lead with compassion for your fellow humans, you'll make the right choices . If you vote or work to protect people, to care for them, to make sure they have the tools and the resources they need, then you'll be making the right choices.

If you vote to stand up to hate, to tell the bullies they aren't welcome here, to show the world you care, then you've done well.

This is how ♡LOVE♡ trumps HATE.

It Starts with an Idea

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It starts with an idea. It begins with the idea that something new is needed or that something that currently exists could be made better. It could also just be the idea that freedom to work for oneself is preferred over working for someone else. These ideas are the seeds of small business in the United States.  Small businesses exist in enormous numbers in this country and employ millions of people providing a product or service.  They are the generators of innovation, invention, and productivity that are the foundation of our economic system.

I've been spending a lot of time talking to small business owners in our community since I started running, and I always come away impressed with their courage and their community focus.  They're not just business owners, they're our neighbors, our fellow PTA members, and our friends.  They contribute to the community not just because it's good for business, but because they know they're a part of it.  

According to the last census, there are about 28 Million small businesses registered in the United States. The Small Business Administration indicates that roughly 60% of the 126 million people employed in the United States are employed by small businesses. 99.7% of U.S. firms with employees are small businesses. That’s 75 million people working in firms employing less than 500 people. Of those 75 Million, roughly 15 million people are either self-employed and have less than 4 people working for them. This country runs on small business. It is the life blood of our commerce and the engine of productivity in this country. Pick any industry sector: healthcare, construction, retail and food service, or technology services, and you will see millions of small businesses that are generating products and services that drive exports, consumption and progress for the United States. Roughly 48% of US GDP is driven by small business.

Here in Texas, as of 2015, small business accounted for about 45.6% of employment with more than 4.4 million jobs in the private work force. The pattern is similar across the country and shows us how important this cohort of businesses is to our overall economic health and prosperity.

Small businesses are vitally important to our communities. Irrespective of business type, small business brings diversity of thought, talent, and experience that enrich our communities in countless ways. The variety of small businesses that exist in our neighborhoods is amazing. There’s the body shop, the dry cleaner, the insurance agent or the favorite family-owned restaurant; the furniture upholsterers, real estate agents and financial advisers.  

Small businesses owners are terrific examples of the spirit of entrepreneurship that thrives in this country. It takes an enormous amount of courage to strike out on one’s own. It takes persistence, talent, patience, and often a lot of good luck to make an idea turn into a successful business. The idea that takes shape around a kitchen table, in a garage or dorm room and takes root to grow into a thriving enterprise is a dream of many who set off on this journey. McDonald’s, Microsoft, Apple, and Uber started as small companies with big ideas. While most small businesses won’t ever grow into a Fortune 100 corporation, the spirit that made fortunes for Ray Kroc, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs is the same spirit that drives the individual to start the corner store or create a new local craft-brewery. It is a spirit that should be fostered and assisted. It should be celebrated, for it turns ideas into realities and shows those coming next what is possible.

The Work Is Unfinished

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The great American playwright Eugene O’Neill once said: “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.”  I was thinking about that as I was traveling to work this morning, on the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.  Fifty years ago, Dr. King was in Memphis supporting sanitation workers striking for better working conditions and compensation.  His activism had expanded toward economic injustice and a fight against the war in Vietnam that in 1968 would see 15,000 American soldiers killed in battle.  It was a difficult time for him, as many of his supporters during the early days of the Civil Rights movement had abandoned him because of this focus on poverty and the war. 

Dr. King was eerily prophetic the night before his murder, when he said during the famous “Mountaintop Speech”:

 Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!

His words from fifty years ago remind us that we still have much work to do to get to the promised land. We as a nation can never truly heal until we put aside the three evils of racism, poverty and militarism that he spoke about that night.   I see his legacy of calling out injustice alive today. His message, if anything, was that while there may be violence and injustice, there is also hope. While there may be prejudice and bigotry, there is also love.  His words are evident in the action of citizens in this country who are standing up against those ever-present darker forces that bombard us with cynicism and suspicion.  The movement towards a nation that is emblematic of, as Lincoln said, “The better angels of our nature” has been energized by recent trauma.  I see the hope and determination it in the faces of those kids from Parkland and the marchers in Ferguson. I see it in the grieving faces of those parents who have lost their children due to violence. I see it in the faces of those who teach our children, who have been forced to forego teaching in order to demand better conditions for themselves and their students.  I see it in the faces of everyone that stands up and shouts that we are not where we should be, and more work must be done to get there.  

Our turbulent times today remind us that the work is unfinished.   We need to remember that hope is the fuel that will carry us to the promised land.  There is no better honor to Dr. King’s legacy than maintaining the view that in working together we can eventually ensure a world for our children that is free from racial injustice, free from the tyranny of poverty, and free from the terror of violence.  

6:20

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Six minutes and twenty seconds. It isn’t a long time. It’s not enough time to boil an egg. It’s not enough time to get ready for work. It is such a brief period in our lives that we don’t even think about our day in such small increments of time.

It is, however, all the time it took for a madman to take the lives of seventeen people in Parkland Florida.  Six minutes and twenty seconds brought unspeakable horror to the families, friends and colleagues of those who died under a hail of gunfire delivered from a weapon of war, bought legally by a teenager who could not legally buy a beer in Florida.

That brief, almost unnoticeable part of a day changed this country. Today, on March 24th, I saw first-hand how this change is taking shape. And perhaps, this time, a difference will be made. I had the honor to march with many of my fellow Texans in Fort Worth as we, like countless cities across the nation joined with those in Washington DC to raise our voices and cry, “Enough!”

In Washington DC, a crowd reportedly numbering around 800,000 people walked together, they sang together, and they cried together. They listened as speakers, many whom were survivors of the shooting at the high school in Parkland Florida, raised their voices with righteous anger that they will no longer tolerate this insanity. These were voices of children, many touched directly by the Parkland massacre because they were there. Others, survivors of gun violence from Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and other cities across the land spoke with anguish of the brother lost or the friend severely wounded by gun violence. These voices spoke not only with pain but with hope. They spoke with determination and purpose. They spoke truth to those who hold power but fail to act. Their messages were filled with a wisdom that belied their age.

I am both inspired by these children’s words and ashamed of my generation’s inaction. For it is my generation who has failed to stop the madness. It is the acquiescence by our lawmakers to the powerful out of fear losing an election or the adoption of some perverted philosophy that tells us guns are not the problem that stalls action and allows the carnage to continue. It is the inaction of the voters who put those lawmakers in office to fight for the change so desperately needed.

Somehow our generation has become convinced this problem is unsolvable. It has been said by many that this issue is too complex or too difficult to overcome. Excuses are offered along with anemic thoughts and prayers while more people die. The excuses are bountiful and frequent. They appear like leaves fallen from a tree that cover the path toward a resolution. It is time to sweep away those excuse as one would when sweeping the leaves away from the path. It is time to remember that we have an obligation that those who come after us are to be given a better world, not one infected with chaos, tragedy and inaction.

These children speaking today have reminded us of what this country could be. They reminded us that we can redeem the collective soul of this nation by working together to make sure “Never Again!” isn’t just a slogan on a sign or a chant at a rally. It is a reality brought about by a people who care more about people than bullets, more about the future than profit, and more about our kids than an election.

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I am proud of the people I marched with today in Texas. I’m proud that our country rallied together across the nation for this day. I’m optimistic that this problem is solvable. I’m energized by these young people. I am convinced we all can see the day where we are rallying to celebrate the fact that we can’t remember the last time a child was killed by a gun.

Our young leaders speaking so eloquently today have given us our direction. Let’s heed these calls. Let’s stop making excuses. Let’s demand and deliver action so we never, ever have to talk about six minutes and twenty seconds in this context again.

A Covenant to Keep

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Just over a week ago an unspeakable tragedy occurred in a school in Parkland Florida.   14 students, and 3 adults were shot and killed by a deranged 19 year old former student.  For those of us who watched the events unfold and then witnessed the heartbreak of those who lost their children and students who lost their friends, we share a collective grief and a growing fear that our own children and friends are at risk of the same fate. 

We live in a time now when a phone call from a school is answered with a sense of dread that was rare just a short time ago.  Back then, it might have been a call about our children being sick, or missing school, or not doing well in the classroom.  Now, we face the frightening reality that a phone call may be news of something much, much worse.  No parent should ever have to take that phone call.  No teacher should have to go to work and think that it might be the last time they leave their house because someone might come to their school and kill them or their students. 

This is not the world we want for our children. This is not the world we want for our teachers who get up everyday and focus on helping prepare young students for the future.  Now, after the events in Florida, there are 14 fewer children who will have that future.  They won’t know the great achievements and set backs that come with adulthood. They won’t know the love that comes with having their own children. They won’t be here when the world changes, hopefully for the better, and we have finally seen an end to the madness that causes such sorrow.

There is evil in this world. It comes in all shapes and sizes and we have an obligation to our friends, our loved ones and ourselves to do everything we can to combat it. We must focus our efforts on making the world we live in a safer place for everyone. We must focus our efforts on finding the causes of such pain and do our best to prevent it from happening again.

As parents, and as adults our duty must be to ensure a safer world for our young.  The responsibility and obligation we have to our children is to strive to make their lives a little better.

As adults, the topic of gun violence is one with passionate points of view from different perspectives. We must put those differences aside and be singularly focused on taking whatever actions are necessary to prevent future tragedy.   Let our covenant to our children and ourselves be that our energy, our efforts, and our actions will remain vigilant and persistent to our purpose.  The time is now to ensure a future where there is less grief, less fear, and our children have an opportunity to live to see that future realized.

God bless the memories of those who lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. God bless the parents and relatives of those lost.  Our hearts go out to them.

A Flawed Survey, Chapter One: GUNS

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Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. --Ecclesiastes 9:18

I received a very odd survey in the mail yesterday.  It was the first time I'd ever seen it, but the email said it was a "reminder," and I was given 24 hours by a megachurch in the area to fill out a survey for their "values voters guide" that would be distributed to "30,000 plus members and other churches in our communities."  It's a deeply flawed survey - let's just say it's very clear which answers they want respondents to choose, and that's Cardinal Sin Number One when trying to get an impartial result from a survey.  In addition, each of the questions is a simplification of a complicated issue that I can agree with or disagree with, but there's no text box to elaborate on my response.  So, I'm not participating on their terms, but I'd love to give you my answers to their questions, here, in a series of fun and informal posts!  I want to help this church develop a better survey instrument!  

Oddly, almost none of the questions had anything to do with Christianity or religion - being generous, I'd allow that five of the sixteen were tangentially religious questions.  The first question was definitely way outside the teachings of the Bible:

"More restrictive gun control laws are needed now to protect public safety."

(Strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree) 

A neutral way to phrase that question would be something along the lines of:

"In general do you feel that laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?"

Answer: MORE STRICT.

As our massacre of the week has demonstrated to all of our heartbreak once again, what we've been doing up until now isn't working.  

Let me state clearly upfront: I'm a gun owner.  I have my LTC from the State of Texas.  I support the Second Amendment.  If you're a law-abiding citizen, I don't want your guns. 

But clearly, we have a problem.  We have more mass shootings in the US than any other country in the world has, and the competition is not even close.  First step: define the problem.  We have.  We have too many mass shootings in this country.

Step Two: define the cause of the problem.  This is the point where most of these conversations get hairy.  There are a great many opinions on this subject - I've heard it's a lack of prayer, a lack of parenting, Hollywood movies and video games, mental illness treatment, a general American decline in morals or increase in soullessness, but the answer is really simple: we have an astounding number of guns in this country.

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Take a look at this scatter plot graph from the New York Times,* all the countries of the world, their mass shootings per capita on the vertical, and the number of guns per capita on the horizontal.  I don't know of any way to look at this data and come up with any other conclusion besides, "The more guns a country's residents have, the more mass shootings they'll have."  Please do tell me if there's any other conclusion we could draw from this, I'm all ears!  Yemen is an outlier, fewer guns per capita than us, but more mass shootings per capita - though in terms of sheer number of mass shootings, we've got them beat by a country mile: 90 to 11.  Other countries have mental health problems, and violent video games, and bad parenting.  No other country has this many guns per person, and no other country has this many mass shootings. 

So we've defined the problem we have (too many mass shootings) and we have what looks like a cause (too many guns).  What's the solution?

I think we should start with instituting universal background checks throughout the country, and ensuring that those checks are followed to the letter.  We also need to ensure that the consequences for not following them are economically dire.  The person and the business entity responsible for selling a weapon to someone that didn't pass a check should be civilly and criminally liable for every death caused by that weapon.  Those convicted of violent crimes - especially including spousal abuse, the most common precursor to a mass shooting - should not be able to pass a background check.   

Also, this is at its core an economic problem: the full cost to society of this many guns is not being paid by those who manufacture them, or those who sell them, or those who purchase them.  The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law passed in 2005 to shield the makers of guns from any liability should their products be used illegally, must be repealed.  No other industry gets this kind of protection.  We should also add taxes to the manufacture, sale and purchase of firearms - all three economic activities - to reduce the economic appeal of manufacturing them, selling them, or purchasing them.  Here's the kicker: those taxes must be earmarked to only be used to further mental healthcare in this country.  More clinics, more hospitals, cheaper medications, and better insurance coverage for all.  We could also use the revenue for voluntary buy-back programs, with the stipulation that the weapons bought back be destroyed.

I'll anticipate the next argument, "But Steve, these policies would not have stopped Nikolas Cruz!"  We should not be trying to stop Nikolas Cruz - that happened this past Wednesday.  It's too late to stop.  We should be trying to stop the next mass shooting, or the one after that, or the next twenty-two mass shootings.  By reducing guns over time, we'll reduce mass shootings.  The time for thoughts and prayers has passed.  It's time for action. 

*https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html

 

 

Who I'm Running For

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I’m running for the teacher who told me she’s wondering whether the next cut to education funding in this state will be enough to cause her to lose her job.

I’m running for the woman who told me that, even though she’s morally opposed to abortion herself, it breaks her heart that the state has gone so far trying to reduce abortions and that they've caused the deaths of women that couldn’t find post-natal healthcare they could afford. 

I’m running for the neighbor who told me he longs for a return to the time when statesmen worked together and compromised.

I’m running for the Muslim woman who told me she’s had moments of fear about wearing the hijab in public, lately – but she always does anyway, because it’s what she believes. 

I’m running for the small business owner who wondered aloud why the Enterprise Fund is only used to attract big businesses to Texas, when small businesses are the real engine of our state’s economy.

I’m running for the woman in Euless who asked me “why nobody talks about the earthquakes anymore.” 

I’m running for the philanthropist that showed me how businesses, charities and local governments can work together to make life better for everyone in the community.

I’m running for the woman that told me how the “war on drugs” has negatively affected her family because she occasionally smokes marijuana, while dangerous “legal” prescription drugs are tearing at the fabric of society.  “What’s the real problem here?”

I’m running for the conservative that told me that he doesn’t agree with the direction of the state, and that the legislature only listens to the wealthy now, not to the little guys.

I’m running for the high school principal that told me he’s losing some of his best teachers, because they’re doing the math and discovering they can’t retire with the benefits they’re offered.

I’m running for the police chief that told me that he and his officers spend the majority of their time preemptively visiting people with mental health issues that our society has forgotten to ensure they’re taking their medications.  “I don’t know what the solution is, but we’re not even having the conversation,” he said.

I’m running for the transgender high school student, who told me how tired he is of having to defend who he is to people that won’t listen, and how frustrated he’s become with a state government that wants to score political points by making his life harder. 

I’m running for everyone who’s felt left out and silenced by “the way things are.”  I’m running for everyone that thinks their voice isn’t being heard by the people whose job it is to listen.  I’m running for everyone that’s given up on politics, because they believed that someone that speaks for them in this democracy isn’t a thing they would ever see. 

I’m NOT running for billionaires that don’t live here – there are already plenty of politicians falling all over themselves to represent them.  If you live in this district, I’m running to represent you.  

Why Diversity Matters

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"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."  -Sir Isaac Newton, 1675

Diversity matters because it’s responsible for every innovation humanity has ever made, and will be responsible for every innovation of the future.

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“Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond is one of my all-time favorite books.  If you love to study history, you must read this book!  The central question is this: why did the technology of Eurasian landmass and Northern Africa develop so much more quickly than the rest of the world, to the degree that those cultures were able to dominate all the other cultures of the world, like the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania?  The answer to such a complicated question is obviously also complicated, but the answer is definitely NOT “because the peoples of Europe and Asia are naturally smarter, and work harder.”  It’s actually because they were just very lucky, geographically speaking, to have started out where they did. 

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It’s because of the layout of the landmasses.  Eurasia is one long horizontal continent with a wide band of similar climates from Portugal to Korea.  Agriculture – the engine of civilization – could, and did, spread across that band like an information superhighway.  The seasons are similar in China and Spain, and in most every town in between them.  The seasons are not similar in Canada and Mexico, or in Colombia and Argentina, or in New Zealand and Hawaii, so the farming has to be very different, and the techniques can't be easily shared.  Here’s how it worked in Ancient Eurasia: a farmer in ancient Turkey notices that, by strapping a plow to an auroch, he can plow his field twice as fast.  A vagabond traveling from town to town sees the farmer doing this, and when the vagabond arrives in the next town to the east, he goes to the market and says, “Hey, you know those big cow things you have in a pen over there so you can eat them later?  The people over in Abu Hurayra are using them to plow fields!  I’ll show you how if you buy me a beer.”  These little (and big) innovations in food production spread along the geographical band over the course of a few thousand years.  Efficiency improvements led to extra food.  Extra food meant not everyone had to farm, which created priests, poets, blacksmiths, soldiers, and sailors.  That job specialization created every innovation there ever was.  In short: civilization as we know it.  Those innovations continued to spread for thousands of years, from the ancient Han Empire in China to the Roman Empire along that same geographic band, now dubbed “The Silk Road” by the Romans – because that’s where the silk came from. 

People living on landmasses that were “cut off” from other cultures by mountain ranges, or different climates, or oceans – didn’t develop as quickly because the innovation couldn’t spread as far, and there weren’t as many different cultures with different ideas contributing to the conversation. 

There's a myth about invention and innovation that we generally believe, that it occurs as a result of one brilliant person creating something wholly unique out of absolutely nothing.  The truth is that every invention ever is a culmination of the work of many different people that came before - as Newton said, he had the advantage of the giants' shoulders to stand on. 

That’s why diversity matters: not so much for the campfire “Kumbaya” harmony, but because the interaction of different cultures moves humanity forward.  Giving everyone a chance to speak, and listening to what they say, especially when their perspective is different from yours: that can change the world.  Look around you – all that we have is a result of that conversation.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York:Norton, 1999.

"I don't care about politics. . ."

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"What is called "apathy" is, I believe, a feeling of helplessness on the part of the ordinary citizen, a feeling of impotence in the face of enormous power. It's not that people are apathetic; they do care about what is going on, but don't know what to do about it, so they do nothing, and appear to be indifferent."  --Howard Zinn

In my years in the trenches of political volunteering, I've spent a great deal of time going door to door, and making phone calls to strangers, on behalf of several candidates that sought to do some positive works in the world.  Before November of last year, one of the most common responses I'd hear from people - and frankly, one of the most frustrating! - was:

"I don't care about politics."

Granted, in the past year, I don't hear that response nearly as often as I used to in prior years!  But I wonder: is it because the average person does now care about politics, since the consequences of political apathy are now so clear, or is it that the average person sees so many around them suddenly caring about politics that apathy seems no longer on trend?  

I believe it's the former.  I've seen many signs since I started out on this path that point to a level of engagement this area has never seen.  It's my conviction that more people care about the process of democracy in this country today than did fourteen months ago.  But for those that still - secretly or publicly - feel that they don't care about politics, let me assure you of one thing:

Politics cares very much about YOU.

Those in power care very much if you aren't paying attention - in fact they prefer it that way.  They care very much if you only care about one, emotionally-charged subject that has no impact on your everyday lives - it makes you very easy to distract.  And they know, and they especially care, if you're not voting at all.  Here's why: if you're not voting, your opinion has no weight in their calculations.  They're watching you very closely, and breathing a sigh of relief when you don't show up.

In 2016 in District 92, 61,497 voters showed up to make their voices heard - a number that broke all previous records for our area.  In the previous three presidential-year elections, there were 60,110 (2012), 61,098 (2008) and 57,571 (2004).  In midterm years, like 2018, our district's average votes cast for the past three years have averaged around 34,000.  There are currently an estimated 120,000 citizens of voting age living in the district.  This means that in an average midterm election year, the candidate is chosen by less than a third of the people that could choose.  The other two thirds of you, politics cares about you.  And they very much want you to continue as you've been!

Maybe you don't care about politics, but you do care about your children's education, your safety on our streets, your ability to get a job (or keep one), or clean water and air.  All of these things are directly impacted by your state legislature.  Presidential elections make a big splash and a lot of noise in the media, but their impact on your everyday lives is markedly less than the impact of midterm elections. 

Maybe you feel like your vote is too small to make a difference.  Did you know: in a district in Western Dallas County last year, a House race was decided by 64 out of 47,000 votes! 

Or maybe you feel that it's too big for you to take on.  I can understand that - but that's only true of JUST YOU.  It's not true of all of us together.  All of us together can change the world.

So let's surprise them this year.  Let's show them how much this electorate cares. 

 

. . .and a Happy New Year!

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Friends, as we see the dawning of a new year, our politics must also begin anew.  For the last two years we have seen the worst in our political system. The demeaning and divisive comments by many of the candidates in the 2016 election took center stage over the issues we must face together as a nation. When one group would bring up an issue such as race, the response was to act as if there was nothing wrong and deride the person bringing up the issue as a whiner or accuse them of "Identity Politics!", a term invented to make the group or person highlighting a problem seem small or worse, radical and out of the mainstream.  When a person or group would bring up income inequality, opponents would cry "Class Warfare!", or worse, that the group of people hurt by inequality were shiftless and lazy.  When one group would point out that the healthcare system needs attention and support, others would attack a program designed to help people as "a disaster" that must be ended - but offer no credible alternative.

We are better than this. The issues facing us in 2018 are challenging. Many seem intractable insofar that they have been with us for decades with little focus paid to them by our elected officials.  We must rethink our approach. Instead of demagoguery, we must have debate. Instead of deferment we must have decision. We must come together regardless of political ideology and tackle the great challenges with unity and purpose. Our cause should be a common cause; no child should go hungry, be homeless, be uneducated, or be unsafe.  Our efforts in the legislature should focus on those least able to help themselves and bring the full force of our ideas, our passions and our intelligence toward achieving the hopes of every parent in this state: Making our children's lives better.

Hope for a better life fuels innovation, it fuels compassion, it fuels positive action for our families and our neighbors.  Let us declare a covenant to each other that we will not be distracted or deterred. Let us put away petty grievances that cause division when there should be common effort. Let us begin today and establish a cycle of progress that becomes so momentous, that when we finally see those hopes realized, we will have established a legacy that our children will be proud of.

I wish you all great success in the coming year. Let's get to work.

Merry Christmas!

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Friends, this time of the year is a special one. Most of us will have an opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends, remember those no longer with us, reflect on the opportunities and challenges we faced in the last year, and plan for the new ones we will see in the coming year.

Many of us also celebrate the birth of a young child who as an adult would change the world with a message of hope, charity and forgiveness to all. This time of year, perhaps more than any other, reminds us that it is love and hope that powers our efforts toward feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting those in distress, and making the world a better place for our children. Ours is a great community, we have so much generosity and compassion as a people.

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Chrystal respects my annual tradition of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve after the kids are in bed and Santa's errands are complete, but that doesn't mean she won't give me a gentle hard time towards the end of the movie, when I get a little misty-eyed - every year! - as all of George Bailey's friends show up to remind him how rich he truly is.  That's what Christmas means to me: a time to appreciate the true value of our friends, our families, and our community; all the people that surround us that make this life so wonderful.

Let's work together this holiday season and in the coming new year to help all of our children, regardless of economic circumstances, realize their dreams. Chrystal and I, along with our children, wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Patchworks of Local Regulations

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In 2014, the City of Denton had a problem: natural gas pad sites were springing up all over town.  There were over 300 gas wells within city limits alone.   By that time, the connection between fracking and seismic activity had been scientifically well-established, so Denton’s citizens were concerned.  They decided to act: they participated in democracy at a neighborhood level.  They gathered enough petition signatures to put a ban on fracking within city limits on the ballot.  Despite aggressive tactics from industry groups – they outspent the ban supporters by 10 to 1 in trying to persuade voters not to adopt the ban - the measure passed by a wide margin:  59% to 41% in November of that year.  It was a classic case of grassroots effort beating corporate money in a democratic contest.

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There was a victory party, but the victory was short-lived.  The next day, the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed a petition for injunctive relief, and the following May, the Texas Legislature passed HB 40, the compellingly-named “Relating to the exclusive jurisdiction of this state to regulate oil and gas operations in this state and the express preemption of local regulation of those operations.” 

Upon signing, Governor Greg Abbott said the intent of the bill was to prevent “a patchwork of local regulations” from preventing oil and gas production. 

I’m a businessman.  “A patchwork of local regulations” is one of those environmental factors that a business has to learn to deal with, or perish.  Any business that can’t manage its way around a patchwork of local regulations has no right to be in business.  I suspect that oil and gas companies have sufficient internal resources to manage patchworks, and if they don’t, they can afford to hire a patchwork analyst.

When it comes to a community’s people determining for themselves how to manage their natural resources versus corporations using outsized power to put the kibosh on democracy – folks, I may be a businessman, but I’m always going to side with democracy.

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The war on local control has continued since: the 85th legislative session saw multiple state-led attacks on local control on several fronts, from trees to bathrooms to ride-sharing applications, but most particularly on a community’s ability to raise property taxes if needed – a need that’s ironically been made more acute in the past few years as the state reduces its contributions to public education, but that’s another blog topic! – and the legislative approach from Abbott and the Legislature has been directive, not cooperative.  I believe there’s a better way: the relationship between the state and the communities that it serves should be an ongoing negotiation.  I further believe that in issues of natural resources, the community’s voice should carry the most weight.  Those closest to a resource know best how it should be used.  Their voices should be heard.  

My Duty to Walter

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Our companion animals enrich our lives daily, as they have for thousands of years.  Who knows where humanity would have ended up if not for our companionship with animals?  

I have a great relationship with my dog, Walter.  He makes it easy, since he's probably one of the most chill dogs in the universe!  I'll never forget the day he became a member of our family: we went to an adoption event in the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, and I was walking around while the rest of the Riddell crew was looking at cats.  Walter was in an enclosure and had been all morning, according to the staffers there, just lying back and watching people walk by, but as soon as he saw me, he stood up and cried to be let out.  It's like he'd seen an old friend.  I went over and met him, and he was the friendliest guy, laid back but excited to meet me.  They put him on a leash and I took him over to meet my wife and kids; he snuggled up against them immediately.  All of us just knew right away that we belonged together - Walter included.  The rest of the family is convinced he's a Tibetan Terrier, but I think he's an adorable mutt.  Whatever the breed, he's terrific.  

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I'm not sure who gets more out of the relationship, Walter or us.  But we as a family understand that the relationship isn't all fun - there are responsibilities as well.  We know that Walter considers us his pack, and since dogs are unhappy outside their pack, we make an effort to make sure he isn't without one of his pack being around him for too long.  When all four of us are home, his joy is obvious

Animals have no voice of their own, and can't speak for themselves.  When we enter into a relationship with them, it's our responsibility to treat them humanely.  

Last session, State Rep. Sarah Davis (R) of West University introduced HB1156, a bill intended to "prohibit a person from tethering a dog outside with a chain or with a restraint that has weights or is shorter than five times the length of the dog. In addition, a dog could be restrained to a stationary object only if the dog has access to a clean and sturdy shelter, shade and water and if the area is dry."  The existing laws had no real penalties.  Davis' bill, if enacted, would have made tethering for extended periods a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.  It enjoyed bipartisan support and support from law enforcement.  But the bill was killed via parliamentary measures as part of the "Mother's Day Massacre" of non-controversial bills by the Freedom Caucus - the full story is here:

http://www.thln.org/the_tethering_story

It's an issue that needs to be addressed, and I'd like to reintroduce the bill in the next session with Rep. Davis's support and cooperation.