Sherry Sylvester


O’Rourke’s Anti-Texas Debate

It makes absolutely no sense for the media to be in charge of political debates in Texas or anywhere else. They don’t even pretend to be neutral players anymore. They are on the liberal Democrat side. 

Which makes it all the more telling, now that the only Texas gubernatorial debate is over, that almost none of the media’s post-debate analysts named Beto O’Rourke the winner. What is amusing is that media analysts can’t seem to understand how, after literally years of biased and dishonest coverage of Texas conservative leadership in general and Gov. Greg Abbott in particular, O’Rourke managed to lose a debate against a man they demonize and misrepresent every day. 

With the media in charge, the debate questions on Friday night all leaned in O’Rourke’s favor. There were no questions about the Texas energy policy and how O’Rourke’s support for the Green New Deal would cost millions of jobs and devastate the Texas oil and gas industry. 

There were also no questions about parental rights and school choice which Abbott and a majority of Texans support and O’Rourke opposes. Instead, the media’s education questions were focused on the issues teachers’ unions care about—more money for schools and more pay for teachers and retirees. Student outcomes took a back seat to whether the New York City mayor had actually contacted Abbott’s office about busing migrants there.   

And, of course, they didn’t ask O’Rourke to define what a woman is or if he thinks boys should be allowed to play girl’s sports.

Still, O’Rourke’s prospects seemed good going into the debate.  Polls show 54% of Texans think the state is going in the wrong direction. Texas has had a very difficult couple years, which include the pandemic, a horrifying mass shooting followed by an inexplicable failure to respond by law enforcement, a deadly freeze that paralyzed us and a Supreme Court decision on abortion that has divided Texans.  

O’Rourke clearly went into the debate thinking he would blame Greg Abbott for all that. Using his entitled, rich kid persona, he ignored the rules and launched flailing attacks that repeatedly fell flat. The old suggestions by a previously star-struck media that O’Rourke is, somehow, the reincarnation of Bobby Kennedy are laughable after his debate performance.

O’Rourke attacks repeatedly noted that Abbott has been in charge for the last eight years—he clearly thought it was a killer punch.  

But he doesn’t understand Texans. The Texas Public Policy Foundation conducted focus groups last year asking Texans across the state what they believe about the Lone Star State. We learned that Texans, regardless of race or ethnicity and even most Democrats, are proud of being Texans because, they said, Texas is a state that does things right. 

They listed things like the state’s low cost of living, no income tax, available jobs and reasonable regulations—all results of conservative pro-Texas policies moved forward by Abbott.

No recent pollster has asked Texans if they believe the last eight years would have been better if Democrats were in charge, but if they did, I am confident the answer would be a resounding no. Right next to the right track/wrong track number on most polling results is the disapproval rating for Democrat President Joe Biden, which stands at close to 60% in Texas. Only 37% of Texans approve of his performance and even members of his own party don’t want him to run again. At the same time, a majority of Texans approve of Abbott.  

O’Rourke missed the fact that while Texans believe the state is going in the wrong direction, they don’t blame Abbott. Instead, polls have shown again and again, that Texans’ most urgent concern is the crisis at the border and the 2.1 million people who have crossed illegally since President Biden has been in office. Texans support Abbott’s border policies.

A basic rule of politics is to never believe your own press, but O’Rourke doesn’t seem to realize that virtually all the Texas mainstream media is his press. That’s probably why he misjudged his rude and condescending attacks on the governor and crossed the line of good Texas manners. He thought he could badmouth Abbott because he thinks Texans believe the daily mainstream media headlines screaming that Texas is a backward state whose conservative policies have left it in shambles. But most Texans don’t buy that. It doesn’t ring true with the reality of their lives.   

Republicans finally took control of all three branches of Texas government in 2003, and now, after a generation of reversing the liberal policies of high taxes, intrusive regulation and trial-lawyer packed courts, conservative principles are part of the Texas DNA, right next to liberty and freedom.

If someone is going to overthrow the state’s top conservative leader, he or she will need to be a genuine Texan who understands that the Lone Star State became the country’s top job creator and the top destination for Americans moving from other states because of conservative policies that have rebuilt our state after almost 100 years of Democrat rule. 

O’Rourke showed he doesn’t understand that hard-working Texans know how the economy works because they can see the difference in Texas and blue states around the country. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be putting a higher statewide minimum wage at the top of his platform. Texas voters would never support a plan that would kill both jobs and businesses.    

The media is saying that Abbott stacked the deck by only agreeing to one debate, but Texans saw all they needed to see on Friday night. O’Rourke demonstrated he’s not in tune with the priorities Texans care about. Hopefully, we are seeing his last run for public office.


Parents Should Ignore Teacher Unions

Despite the bleak report on learning loss following pandemic school closures, Texas got some very good news last week with the release of the annual A-F school ratings. Fully 95% of the 38 school districts and 10 charter systems in the Region One Education Service Center area received either an A or B rating in the latest round of state public school grading, compared with 87% for school districts statewide.

Region One includes Laredo and runs south through the Rio Grande Valley to Hidalgo County. Region One also had the most individual campuses of any other district in the state receiving an A grade. The vast majority of the students in Region One are economically disadvantaged or living in poverty, and 96% are Hispanic.

If we’d left it up to the teachers’ unions, we would never know how well the students in Region One were doing. Leadership in Texas’ public schools, including teachers unions, school administrators and school boards fought against enacting an A-F grading system  for Texas public schools for almost a decade. They spent millions to convince Texas lawmakers that holding public schools accountable with an A-F letter grade—like we do public school students—was a threat to our children and communities. They insisted that poor schools and poor communities would get bad grade ratings that would stigmatize the children and their schools.

Superintendents flocked to the Legislature to argue that A-F ratings ignored the “real” problem—which was the lack of funding. Sen. Sylvia Garcia, then a Houston state senator and now a member of Congress, said called A-F “redlining.” She added, “Poor performance is more because of lack of resources than anything else. I would really caution us from getting into any scheme that redlines school districts.”

A-F opponents said the old pass/fail rating system was good enough. Before A-F was established, a school was rated either “Met Standard” or “Needs Improvement.” Those ratings obscured any real problems at schools from parents and the community—and that was the point. It is hard for parents to demand that schools do better if they don’t know how they are performing in the first place. Teachers unions and school administrators predicted the results would be obvious—poor kids would do poorly in school, and those schools would get bad grades. These educators had apparently never heard of the idea of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Teachers unions were so afraid of being held accountable for the performance of their students that in 2017, when A-F ratings finally passed the Texas Legislature, they demanded that the ratings only be given to school districts for the first year—not individual campuses.

Teachers unions fought against A-F ratings until the last minute before they were finally released, but once the public school ratings came out, the lies of the teachers unions, school administrators and school boards became crystal clear.

Region One in the Rio Grande Valley established the record that it repeated last week. No Region One school was graded lower than a B. Teachers in those schools proudly talked about the positive impact of having high expectations and a “no excuses” attitude when it comes to their students.

They also talked about innovative ideas including making sure that their students were fed—both breakfast and lunch. Both meals are known to be key factors in improving school performance.

Parents love A-F ratings. If their child’s school is doing poorly, they want to know why. They get engaged, and, if possible, they can make another choice. Many parents have no idea that their elected officials, school administrators and teachers had been working against A-F ratings for years.

That’s partly because teacher-union backed lawmakers who had led the battle against A-F showed up at A-rated schools for a photo ops and pretended they’d supported A-F all along. About a third of public schools were A-rated this year, including schools that are in low-income communities.

In terms of the Rio Grande Valley, there are a number of factors in play that likely led to the high quality of public schools there, including a strong network of charter schools, which fostered competitiveness in innovative teaching strategies.

Of course, teachers unions are now fighting charter school expansion too, just like they fought to keep schools closed during the pandemic and they tried to block A-F school ratings in Texas. They also oppose increasing transparency in schools and expanding parent empowerment and increasing parental choice. Clearly, their track record is no good when it comes to our children. Parents and policymakers should ignore them.