Mike Kueber's Blog

October 3, 2011

An open letter to the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey on Rick Perry’s DREAM Act

Mr. Ramsey, your article, which has a nationwide platform through the New York Times, misrepresents the truth to the rest of America.

Although Texas was exceptionally accommodating to illegal immigrants during the “compassionate conservatism” of Bush-43, at other times it has not been as generous.  Please recall that the Supreme Court’s 1982 landmark Plyler decision overturned Texas laws that attempted to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving a K-12 public education.

And your proof of the current laxity is based on nothing more than your anecdotal impression of a conference in Austin.  Do you have any surveys of Texas’ current attitude on the subject?  I believe the current attitude in Texas is better reflected by Dewhurst’s recent statement that he would have vetoed the in-state tuition law if he had been governor.

Furthermore, I keep hearing (from Perry and others) that high-school educated illegal immigrants will become a drain on the Texas economy if they are not encouraged to receive a college education.  That doesn’t make sense because, according to a plethora of news reports, college-educated illegal immigrants are already blocked from securing college-type jobs.  If they can’t obtain college-type jobs, what good is it for Texas to get them college-educated?  They are already able to secure high-school type jobs, and that will probably continue unless e-Verify become mandatory.  An illegal immigrant in a high-school type jobs is not a drain on the Texas economy, and we already have enough citizens to fill our college-type jobs.

I support the DREAM Act, but it needs to be a part of a comprehensive solution (including enhanced e-Verify) that eliminates magnets for continued illegal immigration.  Perry’s 2001 law was a magnet, and as such it was part of the problem, not part of the solution.

August 7, 2011

Susan Combs and abortion

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:16 am
Tags: , ,

Six months ago, I blogged about State Comptroller Susan Combs’ position on abortion – “anti-abortion, pro-choice.”  Combs, who is a rising star in Texas politics and a favorite to be the state’s next Lt. Governor, adopted her position in the 90s while running for office in liberal Travis County.  In my blog entry, I predicted that, because being pro-choice was no longer an option for Texas Republicans, “I sense a conversion coming on.”

Earlier this week with the zeal of a convert, Combs announced to the Texas Tribune her opposition to abortions:

  • “I’m unequivocal about it. I was wrong.”  She said abortion is too often used as a form of birth control. “I just find it morally repugnant.”
  • Combs has talked about running for another state office when her term as comptroller is up in 2014 — lieutenant governor is mentioned most often — but said her position on abortion has been developing for some time and isn’t keyed to her political ambitions.  “Either people believe I am telling them the straight, unvarnished truth or they don’t,” she said.

Forgive me, Susan, if I don’t believe you.  Just as I don’t believe that the positions of President Obama and VP Biden regarding same-sex marriage is evolving.  What’s evolving is the political climate.

May 17, 2011

Immigration potpourri

Governor Brewer takes on the Suns

There is an interesting email circulating on the internet, supposedly from Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer.  In the email, she takes to task the owner of the Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver, for his opposition to Arizona’s effort to remove illegal immigrants from the state.  The email makes the following analogy:

  • What if the owners of the Suns discovered that hordes of people were sneaking into games without paying? What if they had a good idea who the gate-crashers are, but the ushers and security personnel were not allowed to ask these folks to produce their ticket stubs, thus non-paying attendees couldn’t be ejected.  Furthermore, what if Suns’ ownership was expected to provide those who sneaked in with complimentary eats and drink? And what if, on those days when a gate-crasher became ill or injured, the Suns had to provide free medical care and shelter?”

Indigent healthcare

The Texas Tribune reported today that the Texas House passed a bill that allows a county to consider a sponsor’s income when sponsored immigrants ask for indigent health care.  Although Democrats are arguing that the bill reflects the anti-immigrant fever that is running through the country, my reaction was surprise that this was not already the law.  A sponsored immigrant is one who is admitted to America after an affidavit of support is submitted by a sponsoring U.S. citizen, promising that sponsor agree to language that the alien “will not become a public charge in the United States.”  Of course, the sponsor’s income should be considered when determining if a legal immigrant is entitled to indigent healthcare.

Incidentally, the local FOX affiliate had a story last night about CareLink, which is San Antonio’s program for providing healthcare to indigents outside of an emergency room.  This is an incredibly accessible program (any family residing in Bexar County that earns less than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines is eligible), and its director bragged to FOX News that Bexar County was the best place in Texas if you were poor and uninsured.  I’m not sure that is the kind of thing we want to be #1 in, especially since most taxpayers don’t consider 300% of the poverty guideline to be poor.

Senators Kyl and Durbin

Senators Durbin and Kyl are not only their party’s #2 person in the Senate, but also two of the leading forces behind the immigration issue in America – Kyl represents the ground-zero state of Arizona and Durbin recently re-filed the Dream Act, which was defeated in the Senate last year.  This week they appeared together on “Fox News Sunday” and staked out their traditional positions – i.e., Durbin wanted a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and Kyl claimed that he wouldn’t even consider such a path until our porous south border was closed.  To explain his position, Kyl used the analogy of a plumber who must first stop the leak before deciding how to clean up the mess.  At the end of the interview, Durbin asked to have a meeting with Kyl to discuss the possibility of appropriating vastly increased resources toward fences and border-patrol personnel in return for a path to citizenship.  

My impression is that Kyl is not interested in changing the status quo.  His colleague John McCain tried that a few years ago and it almost cost him his presidential nomination and, later, his job.  It’s just another example of dysfunctional government.

March 16, 2011

Childless legislators in Texas

An article in today’s issue of the Texas Tribune examined whether Texas legislators, especially those mean-spirited Republicans who are reportedly planning to destroy public education in Texas, send their kids to public schools.  The results may surprise liberals, but they are consistent with other studies that show heartless conservatives are more likely to contribute to charity than liberals. 

According to the Texas Tribune survey, Democrats are more than twice as likely to send their kids to a private school – 19% vs. 7%.  Even more interesting, Democrats are five times as likely to either have no kids or have kids too young for school.  That seems to confirm the stereotype of Democrats as the party of urban singles and the Republicans as the party of community and family values.  Two other interesting issues are raised in the article:

  1. Privacy.  Almost 10% of the elected officials refused to participate in the survey, usually with the explanation that the question was too invasive. 
  2. Irrelevant.  One legislator (David Bradley, Beaumont-R) said he was annoyed at the suggestion that having kids in public schools had anything to do with being qualified.    

Both of those positions are indefensible, and I can’t imagine serious politicians makings those arguments to their voters.  Although having kids is not a requirement for elected office, it is a qualification that American voters consider and value before making voting decisions.  Life in America may be less family-oriented than in the past, but there is no danger of any other lifestyle replacing it anytime soon.

March 11, 2011

Pensions for public servants in Texas

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:55 pm
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An article in the Texas Tribune reported that, although the Texas legislature is having trouble balancing its budget in the current session, and although there has been immense publicity emanating from Wisconsin concerning extravagant public-employee pensions, there has been no talk of reducing the incredibly extravagant pension that is afforded Texas legislators.  According to the article, our legislators are paid only $600 a month, plus a per diem of $150 a day during the 140-day biennial session.  But like other public-employees, the principal compensation of legislators comes in the form of benefits.  In addition to a generous plan for medical insurance, legislators receive a gold-plated pension that others can only dream of.

Because the salary of Texas legislators is considered almost nominal, their pension is based on the pay of state district judges, which is currently $125k a year.  That base amount is then multiplied by 2.3% for every year of service, which is exceptionally generous.  My former employer, USAA, had a reputation for a generous pension until it was discontinued several years ago, yet the USAA multiplier was only 1.5% a year.

But the state’s generous multiplier pales in comparison to the legislators’ allowable retirement age.  At USAA, an employee had to wait until age 62 to collect a full pension.  If a USAA employee took early retirement at age 55, the multiplier was reduced to 1% a year.  By way of contrast, Texas legislators can retire at age 50 if they have as few as 10 years of service and still receive the full 2.3% multiplier.

As the Texas Tribune article declares, “it’s a sweet deal.”  Ten-year legislators can retire at age 50 and receive $28,750 a year for the rest of their lives.  If they serve 20 years, that amount would double to $57,500, plus health insurance.

The point is that Texas pays its legislators $600 a month because they are supposed to be citizen legislators who have a real life with a real job away from Austin.  However, the lifetime medical insurance and the extravagant pension reveal that our legislators have back-doored their way toward treating their “public service” jobs as a pathway to personal financial security.  No wonder politicians have such a bad name.

February 12, 2011

Redistricting in Texas – the first lawsuit

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 8:47 pm
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Based on the 2010 census, Texas and every other state with more than one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives are required to redistrict to comply with the “one person, one vote” requirement found (read-into) in the U.S. Constitution.  In most states, redistricting means gerrymandering – i.e., the party in control redistricts in such a way as to maximize the number of districts that it can win.  Usually this is done by crowding as many of the opponent’s voters as possible (90%+) into a few districts and spreading a working majority of your voters (55%+) in the other districts.  The Texas legislature will be allowed to be especially creative because its population growth have resulted in the state being awarded four additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Because the Texas Democrats were so weakened by the latest election, they will not have any political strength to oppose Republican gerrymandering, but they will have legal strength through the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority districts.  Thus, pundits expect any Republican redistricting plan will be challenged in the courts based on the Voting Rights Act. 

But conservatives did not wait to be sued under the Voting Rights Act.  Even before redistricting has been seriously debated, conservatives have sued the state to prohibit any redistricting that considers residents who are not in the U.S. legally.  An article in the Texas Tribune describes the lawsuit.

You may recall that I have previously blogged about this major flaw in apportioning districts – i.e., it fails to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens.   Thus, one congressional district with 800,000 residents may have only 500,000 citizens, while another district with 800,000 residents may have 790,000 citizens.  There is a strong argument that that violates the principle of “one person, one vote.”

This is going to be an interesting issue to follow.

February 10, 2011

The abortion fight goes on

The fight over abortion, like the fights over gun rights, affirmative action, right-to-work, and illegal immigration, never ends.  It’s like a war, with one side trying to gain the offensive by continually probing the other for weaknesses.  

Before I ran for Congress, I thought these were relatively straightforward issues – you were either for the 2nd Amendment or you weren’t; you were in favor of closing the borders or you weren’t.  But when I ran for Congress, I received extensive questionnaires from special interest groups that challenged me to become an extremist in defense of their cause – or else. 

I thought I saved some of the questionnaires, but can’t find them anymore.  Although I don’t remember the precise questions, I remember being almost forced to disagree with a special interest that I thought I supported.  The NRA people probably asked me to endorse machine guns and oppose gun registration; the closed-borders people probably asked me to reject any immigration reform that included any version of the DREAM Act.   

One question that I’m pretty sure was on the Right-to-Life questionnaire concerned the sonogram bill that is currently being debated in the Texas legislature.  The bill requires abortion doctors to perform a sonogram on a patient at least 24 hours before the abortion, explain the procedure as it is performed, and allow the patient to see the image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus.  I remember reading that and thinking that seemed harsh and of questionable constitutionality.  But that is the nature of special-interest groups.  They don’t want to co-exist; they want to win their war.

A recent article in the Texas Tribune provides some good reporting on how the sonogram bill is dividing the Democrats in the legislature, which is not surprising since (a) most Hispanic legislators come from heavily Catholic districts and (b) the Catholic Church opposes abortion.  Of course, the willingness of the Church to co-exist with Catholic politicians who facilitate abortion calls into question the depth of the Church’s opposition to abortion.

According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, 18 states already have sonogram laws that are similar to the Texas bill.  Although the anti-abortion interests seem to have gained the offensive, this war is a long way from over.

February 8, 2011

E-Verify

Things are so partisan that it seems we can’t agree on anything – marginal tax rates, estate tax, same-sex marriage, the DREAM Act, universal health insurance.  Add E-Verify to the list. 

E-Verify is an internet-based program run by the federal government that enables employers to determine if a potential worker is a legal resident of the U.S.  But the federal government does not typically mandate that employers use E-Verify; rather, the program is available as an option to employers.  Some states, however, as is their wont, are more diligent than the federal government in trying to discourage illegal immigration, and they have passed laws requiring some or all employers in their state to use E-Verify prior to hiring someone.  Arizona is the poster child among states for opposing illegal immigration, and it already has one of the tougher E-Verify laws by requiring virtually all employers to use it; whereas the land of Lincoln and Obama (Illinois) has a law that prohibits employers from using E-Verify because of its high inaccuracy rate. 

The inaccuracy rate of E-Verify was the subject of a recent article in the Texas Tribune.  According to the article, there are several bills pending in the Texas legislature that will require selected government contractors to use E-Verify, and opponents are arguing that E-Verify is too unreliable to rely on.  They are also arguing that requiring E-Verify is an unconstitutional foray by states into any area of law pre-empted by the federal government. 

The issue of constitutionality has already been argued to the U.S. Supreme Court – Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Whiting – and a decision is expected later this year.  As the Texas Tribune article and the Whiting case reflect, American businesses are opposing the imposition of E-Verify on employers apparently because they are unwilling to be inconvenienced or discouraged from hiring illegal immigrants.

When people talk about comprehensive immigration reform, they usually are referring to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  I suggest that comprehensive immigration reform also needs an effective E-Verify to exclude illegal immigrants from the workplace and a similar program for the public schools.  That would be change that we are waiting for.

Death of a small town – Marathon, Texas

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:49 am
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An article in the Texas Tribune yesterday reported on the fight of small-town Marathon, TX to survive.    Forty years ago, my hometown of Aneta, ND went through an eerily similar fight and lost.  We had less than 200 kids attending grades 1-12.  Marathon has only 50.  My graduating class had nine kids, and I was the salutatarian; Marathon has only one graduate, the valedictorian.

The survival of the local school is usually the last line of defense against a town’s eventual extinction.  When I was a kid in Aneta, declining enrollment was already leading to school consolidation, with winners and losers.  The larger towns were winners because their school annexed additional tax base in return for accepting responsibility for a few more students.  The smaller towns were the losers because they lost jobs and their kids had to be bussed to a neighboring (competing) town.  But the ultimate winners were the kids who were able to attend a suddenly thriving new school with a much enlarged curriculum and extra-curricular activities. 

Much credit should be given to local politicos who are able to get past community pride and think about their primary responsibility – the kids’ education.  My Aneta school board fought against being annexed for more than a decade.  In fact, it was unsuccessful in attempting to annex other schools in the same predicament.  Eventually, before Aneta reached the emaciated level of Marathon, the board gave up and consolidated with our basketball enemy McVille, and the kids were better off for it.  Not only was their curriculum expanded, they could play football for the first time in decades.  Kids in my generation at Aneta were never given the opportunity to play high school football, and some still resent that. 

Towns like Marathon should accept the facts.  Don’t treat you kids like pawns to stave off the inevitable decline of your town.

February 7, 2011

Susan Combs – a rising star in Texas?

The Texas Tribune published an article today that explores whether a Republican candidate who is pro-choice can survive a primary challenge.  The general consensus of pundits was that a pro-choice Republican would be a goner.   

This consensus led to a second article – what abortion position will rising-star Susan Combs take?  Combs is currently Texas’s Comptroller and is the favorite to be the state’s next Lieutenant Governor because of her formidable campaign chest of $5 million. 

As the $5-million fund suggests, Combs is a part of the Republican aristocracy.  Her family’s ranch in west Texas, which she ostensibly manages, is more than 100 years old.  She went to Vassar College, worked on Wall Street before obtaining a degree at UT-Law, worked as a prosecutor in Dallas, became a state rep for Travis County (1993-1996)(winning her first primary run-off with 50.08% of the vote), worked as a state director for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and finally won state-wide elective office as Agriculture Commissioner, replacing Rick Perry (1999-2007).

But according to the TT article, Combs’ last known position on abortion was, “anti-abortion, pro-choice.”

Anti-abortion, pro-choice – huh?  That sounds like political double-speak, and if you look closely, you will see that it mirrors the position of Combs’ former boss – Kay Bailey Hutchison.  Both Hutchison and Combs have opined their support of Roe v. Wade because they believe nonsensically that Roe v. Wade is a valuable tool in outlawing late-term abortions.

Combs adopted her position on abortion in the early 1990s when she was running for the state legislature in Travis County, which is the most liberal county in Texas.  Being pro-choice in Travis County didn’t take political courage.  If the TT pundits are correct, being pro-choice while running in a Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor is political suicide, even with $5 million in the bank.  Perhaps that explains why Combs’ spokesperson says that Combs will be announcing her position on abortion after the current legislative session.

I sense a conversion coming on.

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