The Republican primary is already getting spicy as donors choose between Attorney General Abbott and Governor Perry.
But what's happening on the Democratic side? With Battleground Texas swooping in to give our state the Democratic voter push it needs, the Democratic effort will be one to watch. There are a number of good candidates who may run, but little besides speculation to go on for now. We can expect to see candidate announcements in June, when fundraising commences.
Who's On Deck for 2014?
State Representative Mike Villarreal: Representing San Antonio in the Texas House since 1999, Mike Villarreal has gained a name for himself as a serious legislator with an appealing personality. After growing up in San Antonio, Villarreal went to Texas A&M and then Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is now pursuing a PhD in public affairs at UT's LBJ School while teaching as an adjunct professor at St. Mary's University. He has spent the last three years focusing on education (a perfect issue to bring statewide) and budget transparency. Villarreal is young, a strong campaigner, and would certainly appeal to Texas's growing Hispanic voting population. The 123rd House District is safely Democratic, making Villarreal an even more appealing potential candidate for Texas Democrats.
Former Houston Mayor Bill White: The Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, Bill White has spent couple of years laying low in Houston while working in investments. White ran an impressive campaign all over Texas in 2010 that garnered national attention, and his loss is blamed in large part on the year's difficulty for Democrats nationwide. A poll released a few weeks ago by Public Policy Polling shows White leading Perry in a 2014 matchup, making a strong case for White's electability. White was a hugely successful mayor, and has a down-to-earth persona appealing to a broad swath of Texans. Earlier in 2010, White sought Kay Bailey Hutchison's Senate seat before she took back her promise to retire. So it's not impossible that White will seek Sen. John Cornyn's Senate seat in 2014. But no one knows what White will do yet - he hasn't said anything either way.
State Senator Kirk Watson: Austin's former mayor is a well-known, personable legislator who would appear to have the energy for a run at the governor's office. He ran for Attorney General in 2002, losing to Greg Abbott, but 2014 is a very different year. Watson might be able to capitalize on his ability to rev up Democrats, six years of experience in the Texas Senate, and plentiful ideas to make a serious run at the governor's office.
Longer shots include...
State Representative Rafael Anchia: Representing Dallas in the Texas House since 2004, Anchia is known as a likable, hard-working legislator. Anchia would certainly run a good campaign with his appeal to both Latinos and Texas's growing 18-35 year old Demographic. Any plans about future runs for office are not yet known.
State Senator Wendy Davis: An energetic and charismatic progressive who singlehandedly forced a special session in 2011 by filibustering the state's inadequate education funding, Davis would be a very good candidate for governor. She's been representing Fort Worth since 2009 and regularly makes lists of state legislators to watch. Even if she doesn't run in 2014, Democrats will be hoping she does soon. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilbert Hinojosa recently said of Davis, "From the perspective of electability, she's one of our top superstars in Texas. Her sensibility and approach to politics will just automatically propel her as a top candidate for statewide office."
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro: San Antonio's mayor is the top Democrat in Texas and arguably the brightest rising star of Democrats nationwide. From his celebrated keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention to his upcoming autobiography, it's only a matter of time before Castro runs for higher office. But which office will that be? Castro just announced his re-election campaign in the 2013 San Antonio mayor's race, and says he's "not running" for governor in 2014. That's probably true, but he certainly deserves his place on this list - if only for all the buzz you'll hear about him around this race and others.
Whoever the candidate is, expect 2014 to be a year of energetic Democratic campaigning as Texas comes closer and closer to voting blue statewide.
In 2011, the Republican legislature slashed four billion dollars from public school funding in Texas. They also cut grants to school districts by $1.3 billion -- that pays for after school programs and early childhood education. As a result, schools closed, teachers lost their jobs, and our kids suffered the immediate consequences. The erosion of public education in Texas hurts our economy, and hurts our ability to create jobs in Texas. We need to educate a competitive, 21st Century workforce that can keep Texas and America strong. It's a crying shame that the Republican legislature doesn't see the value for all Texans in funding public education.
Now, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing, extremely conservative "think" tank, is pressuring Republicans for even more cuts. More cuts?! Texas now ranks 45th in the country in per-pupil spending. Conservatives won't stop until Texas ranks dead last in every educational statistic in the country.
Well, Democrats do see the value in public education, and many of our party leaders are rallying at the Capitol tomorrow alongside Save Texas Schools tomorrow, Saturday March 24th. The event kicks off at 11:00 with a march from 12th Street and Trinity, a block east of the Capitol. The program begins at noon. Register for the rally here.
Among those leading the charge is State Representative Mike Villarreal, who sent out this statement opposing more cuts to education and urging Texans to join him at the Capitol on Saturday to stand up for public schools. His statement -- and his hand-made rally sign -- are below.
See you there!
Statement from Representative Mike Villarreal:
Rally Saturday to Oppose Right-Wing Plan to Double Down on Education Cuts
Austin - Following the announcement by right-wing groups that they will push for deeper education cuts during the next legislative session, Representative Mike Villarreal, pictured below, urged Texans to fight back at the Save Texas Schools Rally this Saturday at the Capitol.
"This is yet another sign that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists who want to defund our children's schools," said Rep. Villarreal. "The right-wing ideology groups that control the Republican Party are now advocating for even more cuts to education. They will get their way unless everyday citizens stand up and demonstrate their opposition in public and at the voting booth."
Yesterday the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and other right-wing groups with close ties to Republican policymakers announced a "Real Texas Budget Solutions" plan that calls for deeper cuts in education and other essential services.
On Saturday, March 24th, thousands of Texans are expected at the Save Texas Schools rally that begins at noon at the State Capitol. The goal of the rally is to restore support in the legislature for public education and call for an end of the overemphasis on standardized tests. More information on the rally is available at savetxschools.org.
During the last legislative session Governor Perry and Republican legislators passed a budget cutting public education by $5 billion. Largely in response to the cuts, districts have increased class sizes in more than 8,000 classrooms and eliminated teachers in Gifted and Talented, Special Education, core academic subjects, and other areas.
Yesterday, State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) took issue with claims by Rick Perry and other Texas Republicans that it is Democrats (particularly the Obama administration), not Republicans in the State Capitol, that are trying to kill the Women’s Health Program which has served over 130,000 low income Texas women, providing cancer screenings and other basic health services, but not abortions.
Rep. Villarreal said, “The idea that Texas Republicans have supported the Women’s Health Program is laughable. It has no connection to reality. Anyone who paid attention to the last legislative session knows that Texas Republicans consistently demonstrated their hostility towards the Women’s Health Program and other family planning programs. Republican-dominated committees in the House and Senate blocked ten different bills to continue the Women’s Health Program.” (emphasis mine)
Villarreal’s staff provided a handy list of the many proposed bills from the 2011 Legislative Session that would have continued the WHP:
HB 419 by Rep. Villarreal: blocked in House Human Services Committee after a hearing
HB 1255 by Rep. Strama: no hearing in House Public Health Committee
HB 1478 by Rep. Woolley: blocked in House Public Health Committee after a hearing
HB 2299 by Rep. Coleman: delayed in the House Human Services until the last month of the legislative session, and then blocked in the Local and Consent Calendars Committee
HB 3256 by Rep. Strama: no hearing in House Public Health Committee
SB 325 by Sen. Van de Putte: no hearing in Senate Health and Human Services Committee
SB 575 by Sen. Van de Putte: blocked in Senate Health and Human Services Committee after a hearing
SB 585 by Sen. Watson: blocked in Senate Health and Human Services Committee after a hearing
SB 1138 by Rep. Rodriguez: blocked in House Public Health Committee after a hearing
SB 1854 by Sen. Deuell: delayed in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee until the last month of the session, and then blocked on the Intent Calendar
While the session was dominated by budget cutting measures, Republican legislators were particularly zealous in trying to cut funding to the WHP (a program which has saved the state “$20 million in general revenue after accounting for the state’s $3 million investment.”).
In fact, no program faced more cuts during the budget debate on the House floor. In all, House Republicans passed seven amendments to cut WHP funding:
An amendment by Rep. Weber to cut $9.3 million
An amendment by Rep. Christian to cut $6.6 million
An amendment by Rep. Bohac to cut $14.4 million
An amendment by Rep. Murphy to cut $1.4 million
An amendment by Rep. Miller to cut $21.2 million
An amendment by Rep. Zedler to cut $1.8 million
An amendment by Rep. Laubenberg to cut $9.2 million
Funding for the program dropped from $111 million in 2010-11 to $37 million in 2012-13. “The Legislative Budget Board estimates that the reduction in funding will result in 20,000 additional unplanned births and an additional $98 million in state general revenue expenditures during the current biennium.”
Thanks to Mike Villarreal and his staff for responding to Rick Perry’s outrageous claims.
Today, State Rep. Mike Villarreal showed how our Legislature prioritizes energy industry donors over our state's children. This is a great angle, and very accurate.
New Data Show Natural Gas Tax Break Costs Schools $2 Billion
San Antonio - The state's high-cost natural gas tax exemption cost the state $2.3 billion during fiscal years 2010 and 2011, according to data provided by the state Comptroller's office. The dollar figure is roughly equivalent to the amount needed to cover the increase in student enrollment, which the legislature chose not to pay for in the current state budget.
"Texas voters know the legislature should prioritize schoolchildren over the natural gas industry," said Rep. Villarreal. "Instead of using this money to subsidize the gas industry and forcing schools to make deep cuts, we should invest these funds in hiring great teachers, keeping class sizes manageable, and making college affordable for hard-working students. If we want to create jobs and grow the economy, then we need to invest in our children's education."
During the last legislative session, as the legislature was cutting $5 billion for public education, Republican legislators voted down an amendment by Rep. Villarreal to suspend the business subsidy during years when education funding declines or when natural gas prices were clearly high enough for the market to spur significant production.
The subsidy cost the state $1.3 billion in 2010, while the natural gas production tax yielded $700 million for the state. In 2011 the exemption totaled $1 billion and the state collected $1.1 billion from the tax. The majority of the revenue goes into the state's general revenue fund, which is available to fund education and other essential services.
A recent study by the Legislative Budget Board found that the subsidy cost the state $7.4 billion from 2004 to 2009. The report found that over half of natural gas wells now qualify for the tax subsidy that was designed to only serve "high cost" wells. The LBB reported that the natural gas industry paid no state severance tax at all on approximately one-third of wells. Over half of the refunds audited by the state Comptroller proved to be fraudulent.
The line is an adaption of a famous 1957 photo by Larry Obsitnik of the Arkansas Gazette. It's taken looking back at the Broadway Bridge in Little Rock as paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division rolled into the city. They were entering Little Rock on the eve of Little Rock Central High School's historic integration. A simple statement on a billboard at a turning point in Arkansas' history but it said so much at that time. I remembered that photo today as I sat in a press conference hosted by Rep. Mike Villarreal as he discussed the impact an epic budget shortfall will have on Texas education. In so many words, Villarreal asked that same question of Texans going into the upcoming biennium.
For those accomplishments and others, Villarreal reports to receiving 26 awards.
He still insists upon reelection to the House, saying the following (emphasis mine):
In the past few weeks, a few colleagues have encouraged me to run for statewide office in 2010. I am truly honored by their trust in me.
While I do not have plans to run for statewide office in the coming year, I believe that there is a real hunger in this state for new leadership. People are looking for leaders who are willing to fight for their values, but also know how to listen to all sides and forge compromise.
I also believe that there is a growing movement in our state of people who are committed to finding innovative solutions to improve our education system, ensure that our state leads the new energy economy, and invest in modern, sustainable transportation options.
And so as I prepare to declare my candidacy once again for State Representative of District 123, I also plan to continue to play a leadership role in that movement. I'll start just as I did on my very first campaign, by taking the time to listen to those that I serve and learn.
Remember: he can change his mind until December 30. I am among those who think that Representative Villarreal is among the best leaders of this state, and I encourage him to, at least privately, keep the option of higher office open until the very last minute. If you agree with me, please encourage him to do so, too.
But in reality, his designs may genuinely be with the House of Representatives for the present, with a keen eye on 2012 and 2014 explaining this profile-raising website. As for the 2011 session? After 10 years in the state legislature's lower house, expect him to be a force if he's still comfortably in his seat come the Eighty-Second Legislature.
Democratic statehouse Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio is considering running for comptroller and is expected to make a decision next week. The five-term House member is a financial advisor who holds a masters in public policy from Harvard.
The state Democratic Party has been trying to recruit candidates from different areas of the state, where their presumed popularity and political cred could attract hometown voters to the polls and lend strength to a Democratic ticket.
According to a Villarreal spokesman, he will soon be launching a video outlining his vision for Texas. Villarreal should be given some credit for his work this past session in which he actively reached out to blogs, talked about issues, and had some of the more substantive conversations about policy affecting Texas. He's smart, hails from a safe Democratic district in San Antonio, and would add a compelling new voice to the statewide Democratic ticket should he decide to run in 2010.
Democratic Representatives Joaquin Castro, MALC Chair Trey Martinez Fischer, Mike Villarreal, Joe Farias, Roland Gutierrez, and David Leibowitz have all just announced their "enthusiastic support" for fellow San Antonian Republican Joe Straus.
Democratic members of the Bexar County Delegation have enthusiastically thrown their support behind Representative Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who will be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on January 13th.
After bipartisan discussions this weekend in Austin, Representative Straus has been selected as the consensus candidate to run the House of Representatives. He is expected to have the majority of votes from House members, including the support of most Bexar County Democrats.
Representatives Joaquin Castro, Trey Martinez Fischer, Mike Villarreal, Joe Farias, Roland Gutierrez, Jose Menendez, and David Leibowitz have all extended their full support to Representative Straus and believe his election as Speaker will be a historic victory for the Alamo City, especially in a moment when the stakes are so high.
Representative Straus will significantly help advance San Antonio's agenda in the upcoming legislative session.
During the 81st Legislative Session, lawmakers are expected to name a third top tier research university in the state, making the University of Texas at San Antonio a front runner for consideration. Straus as Speaker of the House would make up for the absence of a San Antonio member on the important Texas Transportation Commission, and a Speaker Straus will be invaluable in securing funding for critical infrastructure projects, and private sector development in Bexar County.
Democratic members of the Bexar County Delegation are excited to join Republicans and Democrats from across the state to support Representative Straus in his candidacy for Speaker of the House of Representatives, and they look forward to the opportunities this will present for San Antonio in 2009. The Delegation urges other uncommitted lawmakers to throw their support behind Representative Straus.
Representative Straus is expected to publicly identify his list of more than 76 supporters within the next 18 to 24 hours.
The most interesting part of this whole release is the very last paragraph.
San Antonio State Representative Mike Villarreal has filed a bill to prohibit individuals from contributing more than $100,000 per election cycle to state candidates, political action committees (PACs) and officeholders.
Villarreal said in his press release:
"I believe our state government would be more responsive to ordinary Texans if we limited contributions from mega-donors," explained Rep. Villarreal. "Reasonable donation limits will create more equal access in our political system."
"All that campaign cash distracts us from an honest debate on the best way to invest in education, protect our air and water, and help hard-working families succeed," noted Rep. Villarreal. "We need to make sure our leaders listen to all Texans on these critical issues."
During the 2006 election cycle, the last for which data is available, 140 donors contributed more than $100,000 to state campaigns. Those 140 donors contributed a total of $52 million, accounting for 27 percent of all donations during the election cycle.
Austin area Representative Mark Strama is a joint author of this legislation and El Paso Senator Eliot Shapleigh has filed the bill in the Senate.
Texas is one of only seven states that currently have no limits on contributions.
Over at his website, Leaders Listen, State Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) is encouraging Texans to sign a petition to the Public Utility Commission to encourage them to select a plan that maximizes the renewable energy transmission grid: