|What makes you the most qualified candidate, as the only Democrat amongst six other Republicans, to address the concerns and needs of District 97?
You mean besides that I'm the only Democrat? What sets me apart from at least two of them is they outright support Tom Craddick and the current leadership and the other four refuse to commit to any change in Austin at all. Four of my opponents call it a management problem that needs to be looked into and I'm sorry, there is nothing that needs to be looked into or investigated here. Bottom line, the leadership must change and essentially replaced in Austin.
The 80th legislature voted to add only 135,000 children to the states CHIPS program when almost 500,000 are in need. How do we get all children back under CHIPS that qualify?
Well the unfortunate thing is that it will probably have to wait until the next legislative session. We could do it right now if we wanted. The legislative budget board, which is led by Craddick and Dewhurst, could in essence override the governor's veto, but it doesn't look like it is a priority of theirs and likely will not happen. Unfortunately it looks like the kids are going to have to wait and that isn't right.
Proposition 11, one of many propositions on the ballot November 6, along with your special election race, calls for requiring on-the-record votes for legislation passed into law. Are you in favor of this initiative?
I absolutely support that, I'm all for transparent and accountable government. If a legislator can't explain their votes then they aren't communicating with their constituents. During my last race in 2006 transparency in government was one of the many things I talked about and it resonated.
As a college student I'm very concerned about sky rocketing costs of college tuition. It seems it increases every semester. What do you believe you can do in Austin to help young Texans to pursue higher education at an affordable price?
We need to look at the restrictions and guidelines of programs that are designed to help young people afford school. There are a lot of young people who are looking to return to school in order to improve themselves and the economic status of their families. However, because they actually worked full time the previous year, they are often disqualified from loans and assistance. There are many students across Texas, maybe even you included, that fall into that same category. I believe the state, in conjunction with the banking industry, can offer more low interest rate student loans to be paid back over an extended period of time. New graduates should not be saddled with loan repayment plans that are so burdensome because of their loan terms. The cost of a graduate level education can be as much as some people pay for a mortgage, we can't expect this to be paid back in eight years.
Another thing that bothers me though is that credit card company's prey on young men and women entering college. They offer high interest credit cards and loans that appeal to young men and women in need, and that is just wrong. We have to stop companies with marketing plans like this that are designed to prey on desperate students and poor people.
Do you support the top 10% rule in Texas?
Well, it seems to me that academic performance in high school is only one measure of performance. I'm fine with rewarding top performers in high school but not to the exclusion of other well-qualified students. There are some high schools in Texas that maybe only have ten graduating seniors and others that may have over 500 graduating seniors. That seems a little imbalanced to me. Certainly we should award academic performance but I think we have to be careful that we are excluding so many other well-qualified students.
As you know most of the Republican representatives in North Texas voted to fast track tolling our freeways, with little concern for environment standards, and voted to exempt North Texas from a two-year moratorium on freeway tolling. What is your position on toll roads?
I don't like toll roads in general and I don't like Tom Craddick toll roads in particular. There may be situations where to solve transportation problems that you build a toll road designed to pay off after a certain amount of time, Like Interstate 30, and then the toll booth comes down.
I think that building a toll road by a private company who retains the profits from the toll road is just flat wrong. And it is the wrong way to address our transportation problems. We've got to explore light transportation rail systems in urban areas for short distance trips and high passenger rail systems for long distance trips. We need to subsidize that type of program first because I believe if a system of public transportation were available that it would be used.
Other places in the country and the world utilize systems like these and it is more environmentally friendly and certainly cheaper. People would respond to this if we actually did it.
Air quality in North Texas, especially during the summer, frequently reaches hazardous conditions. There isn't a day that goes by where skylines aren't hazed over with fumes and carbon dioxide. Children and the elderly amongst us are having severe breathing problems and most of North Texas in general are likely going to have long term needs medically resulting from poor air quality. What do you want to do, what can you do, down in Austin to help clean up Texas air?
Well transportation is a big part of that, but we just discussed this, and it is a big part of the problem. Solving the transportation problem can go a long way towards addressing our air quality issues. The other thing is that if we ever build another dirty coal power plant in Texas we should be ashamed of ourselves. The cement kilns down in Waxahachie, where Smokey Joe Barton is, must come into EPA compliance or they should be shut down.
Now, on a broader scale, industry will respond to incentives. We have to make it more expensive for companies to continue to produce dirty power rather than use new technology to produce clean power. The technology exists in a number of ways to solve the problem but they aren't going to do it by their own free will. We have to push them to do so. We don't have to push them in a manner that puts people out of work either, but if we offer economic incentives for these plants to produce clean power, over a period of time on a graduated scale, they will comply. The problem is that we haven't had the political will to do this and I hope to offer some of that in Austin. I'm also hopeful that one day the public outcry is loud enough that we develop even more political will to make this happen.
Energy costs are out of control. Electric bills continue to go up, as do natural gas bills. What can Austin do to curb the gouging of our pocketbooks over energy costs?
We have to force the industry back down through re-regulation. Now I'm all for open competition, which in theory is what deregulation should have brought consumers, but it didn't happen. So because this didn't happen Austin has to step back in and force prices back down.
That is not to say we have to go to single providers. Just because we cap energy rates doesn't mean we shouldn't have choices between wind power, solar power, and other energy sources. In fact, we should make it an incentive to make those choices. Fort Worth pays 1/3 more for power than citizens in Austin because the city provides it to them under a co-op program. Fort Worth is also about 1/3rd higher in energy than most cities across the United States so it is pretty obvious that deregulation hasn't worked and we have to go back to the drawing board to come up with better solutions.
What is your assessment of public education in Texas and how can we fix it? In particular, how we can downsize classrooms and empower teachers to maximize the individual potential of Texas children?
One way we downsize classrooms is we mandate a 22 to 1 pupil to teacher ratio from kindergarten through 12th grade. Obviously funding is a problem for public education and we depend far too much on local funding really. Our states share should be increased which should result in some property tax relief, which everyone wants anyway. I absolutely oppose unfunded state mandates. There are some mandates from the state that should be funded and upheld but I believe local oversight of public education is ideal, but if the state mandates something they should fund it.
No doubt that our teachers should be paid more, I don't think you'll find too many people who disagree with that. Also teachers should be confident that after a full career they wouldn't be abandoned by the teacher retirement system.
I'm absolutely opposed to school vouchers they are not the answer. I believe there is a hierarchy of government responsibility that is as basic at the bottom as police protection, fire protection, (general public safety) and public education. I believe that public education is the responsibility of government that can't be discharged by abrogating to the private sector.
I believe that the public education system in Texas and every other state in the union has to be academically superior to any other system in the world. If someone wants to choose private education, and pay for it, that is fine, but not on the taxpayer dime.
As far as standardized testing, I do believe that it serves as a snapshot of individual achievement at any given time, but it is only a tool and not a goal. It's a tool that teachers can use to determine if lessons are getting through or if adjustments in teaching for learning purposes need to be made. To make a single test be the end all or say all of funding or overall performance is insufficient. It doesn't measure true education performance or achievement. Kids have bad days when testing sometimes, and other kids just don't perform well when testing, so it is an unfair assessment. Look, when I think of a child putting their entire academic career on the line based on a single performance on a test I think it is just wrong.
Dan, when you have the chance to represent District 97 in Austin, what do you feel will be the biggest challenge you will face?
The leadership will be the biggest challenge. The way things are set up in Austin if you hold the leadership you hold the power to squelch any legislation that comes forward that doesn't match your agenda.
One of the exciting things is though that the tide is turning. I'm under no illusions however that as a freshman legislator that I will be able to go down to Austin and single handedly change things, but I can certainly be part of the agent of change I feel is resonating with voters right now especially in House District 97. That is the biggest difference between me (besides being the only Democrat), and my six opponents, is that I want to change Austin. They believe in status quo and I don't, so I want to be part of that wave of change.
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