November 12, 2007
The most amazing thing about the 2002 elections is how well they spelled out everything that’s happened since.
Most of those elected that day have devoted little time to bolstering and enhancing schools, universities, health systems, highways, and other at-risk infrastructure that should benefit all Texans. They have cut truth out of taxation, rigged the budget process to cover their empty campaign promises, instituted and recalled misplaced privatization efforts, and left state government less accountable than it’s been in most of our memories.
These officials, in fact, seldom seem so motivated as they were when Tom DeLay came to impose his partisan Washington politics on the people of Texas.
But, while we may find all of this tragic, no one should be surprised. We worked so hard in 2002 because we knew what would happen if we lost. We knew what to expect after we faced campaigns fueled by special-interest money, endured tactics that ran from questionable to corrupt, and heard bitter, divisive messages that split Texans and degraded the common interests that drove state politics for years before November 5, 2002.
Well, we lost. It was a rough night, as bad as I’ve ever experienced in politics.
A lot of folks wanted to give up; some did. But most of us knew it was even more important that we stay engaged, vocal, and vigilant. We had to make sure people saw and understood everything their leaders were doing in Austin. But even more than that, we had to be ready to support and preserve Texas when these self-destructive politics and unsustainable policies began to fail.
I believe we’re already seeing these failures.
The leadership not only refuses to protect our finances and our future by expanding children’s health coverage, but it will not even pursue available funds that would return the state’s program to its 2002 levels.
Meanwhile, we are trying to compete in a growing global economy without increasing access to higher education, and trying to make due with just two overstressed flagship public universities. Yet the leadership refuses even to study a strategy to make college more available. Instead, community college funding is vetoed.
And we know we need better-educated children coming out of our high schools, yet the leadership shrugs at our disconcerting educational statistics while trying to trick Texans into voucher schemes and clamping down on funding and local control.
Perhaps most dramatically in recent months, we’ve clamored for solutions to the traffic problems that eat away at our economy and our personal lives. Yet the leadership allows nothing but toll roads and privatization.
They refuse to invest in the infrastructure that rusts and crumbles through this neglect. And, just as surely, they refuse to invest in the spirit and flesh-and-blood infrastructure that will determine what Texas means a generation from now.
Texans are demanding – and the Democrats are offering – common sense, common values, and common ground. We must recognize that the challenges of our time, including the economy, will require creativity, experimentation and a return to accountability.
And we must throw out labels and prejudice – the very things that have proven so effective in politics and so dangerous in governing.
More and more, new and old friends, some of them even from the other side of the aisle, have recognized the danger in the path they have been placed on. They are turning their backs on the politics of polarization and something-for-nothing, one-size-fits-all rhetoric. They have joined the search for the thing we all want: a vision that truly unites Texas and benefits us all.
This vision must feed on the diversity – of thought and ethnicity and anything else – that gives Texas its greatness. It must avoid petty, special-interest squabbles and instead tackle the big issues that will define whether Texas and its people will lead in the 21st Century economy. And it must be the product of intense study, careful listening, honest discussion, and fast action.
This vision must treat our children as our most valuable natural resource, tending to their health, air, water, and schools. It must acknowledge that economic development means producing and attracting an educated, creative workforce of leaders and entrepreneurs – which
means investing in our people. And it must trust the citizens of Texas, particularly at the local level, to tend to their needs and their government – not sign away assets and hand off responsibilities to the highest corporate bidder.
The product of this vision, our vision, is a better quality-of-life, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for us as individuals and a state. But more than anything, it is a matter of hope. And hope matters.
It affirms not that the present is as good as it gets, but that Texas and Texans can be truly great. It demonstrates that a limited,
responsible investment now will pay massive returns in the future. And it proclaims that all of us are far stronger than a few of them.
This is our mission. This is why I was so happy that you all were with me five years ago. And this is why I am so grateful, and hopeful, today.
God bless you all, and God bless Texas. Now, let’s get back to work.
Senator Kirk Watson