Sheila is a mother, wife, and accomplished attorney with a passion for social justice and public service. She lives in Fort Worth with her husband Lee and her son Blaze.
WhosPlayin: Ms. Ford, thank you for taking the time to let our readers learn more about you and what you hope to do for them if you are elected.
First, how long have you been a Democrat, and what factors in your upbringing and life experience have influenced that?
Sheila Ford: I would say that I have considered myself a Democrat for most of my life. I spent most of my young life in East Texas where I learned to embrace the values that the Democrats support - quality education, healthcare for all, clean environment and other ideas. When I started paying attention to politics, I realized I was right in line with the Democratic values.
WhosPlayin: What inspired you to become active in politics?
Sheila Ford: I started doing work in the community when I was a young teenager. At 19, I volunteered at the TX Department of Human Services to help people fill out their applications, and other things. I told the employees there I wanted to help people. They all said that if I really wanted to help people, I needed a position with some power. They suggested law school.
So I made it through law school with the intention of serving the public. I feel like I have in some ways, but I think its time to get in a position where I can have a positive influence on issues important to many more people, like education, healthcare, and others.
WhosPlayin: From hearing you speak, and reading your website, I know that improving and funding our public education system is the number one priority for you. It's also the number one issue that I hear from my neighbors, and fellow parents. In your opinion, what is going wrong with our public school system, and how do we fix it?
Sheila Ford: I have talked to many teachers lately and they say there are two main obstacles preventing them from delivering a good education. They need less standardized tests and smaller classes. I think we should listen to the teachers. Standardized testing costs money. Reducing the amount of these tests will also free up some much-needed funds for other uses. We should also re-evaluate our maximum class sizes and tailor them for each grade and subject.
WhosPlayin: The most recent legislature, after several special sessions, seemed to have taken a bit of a short-sighted approach to fixing school funding. As I understand it they spent a budget surplus, then lowered property taxes and introduced a modified business franchise tax. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it was a good compromise, or just a way to duck the issue for 2 more years?
Sheila Ford: I'm sure they think they've ducked the issue for another 2 years, but I don't see it. I think it will become apparent very soon that there is still a problem. I've already heard rumors from the Texas CPA society that changes are in the works for the next session. Until then, small businesses will bear the brunt of the modified franchise tax, while the wealthiest businesses will find loopholes and avoid paying their fair share. Teachers still do not have adequate pay or benefits, and our schools are still under-funded. Democrats need to gain some seats this November so we can make some real improvements in school funding.
WhosPlayin: When you speak of "affordable health care", what do you think the State of Texas' role is in helping to achieve that? Do you have some specific policy in mind?
Sheila Ford: People in Texas are facing a real health care crisis. Businesses are affected because the cost of providing health insurance to employees has skyrocketed over the last few years. The legislature is going to have to step in and provide some relief. A few other states, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts have passed legislation to address this very problem. We should evaluate their success and tailor a plan for the people of Texas.
WhosPlayin: Ms. Ford, I spent an hour and 45 minutes recently talking to a Republican neighbor of mine about various issues that affect the state and the nation. Though we disagreed on several things, I was surprised by how close we stand on the issues that one might consider more important - especially education. His quote, as a Republican was "I don't care if they DOUBLE my property taxes. I want my kids to have a quality public education."
Why should Republican or conservative readers vote for you or any other Democrat for that matter, this November?
Sheila Ford: Well, I think you're right about finding common ground on issues like healthcare or education. The differences come up in the plan to reach the common goals. We have tried the Republican methods, and they have failed us. I talked to a staunch Republican recently and he pointed out that the Republicans have been in charge for years now and haven't done what they promised. It's time for a change and the Democrats have great candidates who are willing to make the changes we need.
WhosPlayin: Why should a voter choose you over your opponent, Rep. Charlie Geren?
Sheila Ford: Anything Charlie can do, I can do better. Charlie has a hit-and-miss history in voting. I am 100% democrat. I believe that 100% of our people deserve healthcare, 100% of our children deserve a good education, and 100% of our citizens deserve an open, honest government. Texans deserve nothing less than a 100% government.
WhosPlayin: On your website, you speak of a "truly fair tax system". Are you referring to the Fair Tax book by Neal Boortz and John Linder, or do you mean it in a more generic sense? What would you consider to be a fair tax system for Texas?
Sheila Ford: I use those words in a generic sense. Taxation is a necessary evil in our society and one that should be apportioned as fairly as possible to the citizens. Most tax seems fair at first glance, but you have to look at the real-life application to determine whether it is truly fair. For example, the legislature recently passed a law requiring people to pay tax on the blue book value of a used car, regardless of the price paid. One might think this is fair, because every person who buys a used car will pay the tax, but in reality it is the poor and middle class that buy used cars and therefore the tax is disproportionately placed on them. I would not support any legislation that is paid mainly out of the pockets the poor and middle class Texans.
WhosPlayin: I've always sort of considered it morally objectionable that property-poor school districts, specifically in rural areas, have less funding per student than property-rich districts. Property rich districts, such as the one that my children attend, pay the "Robin Hood" tax to help the other schools. As I see it, there is still not parity, and there is still not excellence for our own district. Is a per-district property tax the best way to fund schools? What needs to happen with "Robin Hood"?
Sheila Ford: Robin Hood was a good idea, but it was ruled unconstitutional so we now have to find another way to provide a good education to all of our students. Several states have implemented school reforms. Hawaii has passed what it calls a "Reinvention of Public Education Act" which is based on the principles of empowerment, accountability and efficiency. It has been successful there and can serve as a model for Texas school reform. Instead of using a simple per-student formula, it assigns funding based on student needs. Principals control over 70% of their budgets, and are responsible for the academic achievement of their students.
WhosPlayin: What other issues would you hope to tackle in the Texas Legislature? Aside from Education and Taxes, what issues do you think Texans need addressed? Are there issues that you think are important, but may be "under-the-radar" for most Texans?
Sheila Ford: The so-called "tort reform" of 2003 was touted as a way to bring down health insurance premiums for patients, and malpractice insurance premiums for doctors. It has done neither. What it did do is strip injured people of their rights and hand the profits over to the insurance industry. This bad law should be repealed, or at least adjusted to reflect the real impact an injury has on people and families. Also, people are very concerned about the rising costs of utilities and gas. I think it is past time for the legislature to step in and take control of the situation.
WhosPlayin: We've heard a lot lately about the Trans-Texas corridor, and the increasing reliance on toll-roads. Whatever happened to using our public money to build public infrastructure for our state? What is with the privatization? Tell us your thoughts about the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Sheila Ford: I am against the Trans-Texas Corridor for several reasons. First off, it will require about 9,000 square miles of land. This land will have to be taken from the owners, much of it unwillingly by the use of eminent domain. And the effect on the environment from such a wide highway will not be good. One of my main concerns though is that Perry is making statements about how we need this for the future. This proposed road is an old-fashioned highway and is already outdated. There are many other options for transportation that would cost less, be more efficient and not require taking thousands of miles of private land. The whole project is just wrong for Texas.
WhosPlayin: For those of our readers who do not reside in your district, but would like to help you, how can they help?
Sheila Ford: I can always use volunteers for special occasions, like parades, or public forums if the person is within driving distance. Closer to the election I will need people to write editorials in my favor for the Star-Telegram. And of course, donations are always welcomed.
WhosPlayin: Anything else?
Sheila Ford: I just want to stress that my campaign is a positive one. I have ideas for legislation that I believe will be bi-partisan and help to bring people together. And I have the energy and ability to find solutions to problems we have been facing too long and must address from the legislature.
WhosPlayin: Thank you again for allowing us the opportunity to see what you stand for. We wish you the best of luck in November.
Kinky Friedman has made use of the N-word quite a bit over the past years - not so much in a hateful way, but in a satirical way. Probably it's too much for someone running for governor. He's made derogatory comments about the Katrina evacuees in Houston, used the word Negro in some TV interviews recently, but this audio takes the cake:
The Denton County Democrats threw their 4th annual DonkeyFest celebration this Saturday, 9/16/06 at the North Texas State Fairgrounds in Denton, TX. We had 225 people show up.
Statewide candidates Chris Bell, David Van Os, Maria Luisa Alvaredo, Fred Head, VaLinda Hathcox, and Dale Henry attended, as well as local candidates John McLeod, Gary Page, Amy Manuel. Representatives for Tim Barnwell and Barbara Ann Radnofsky also spoke, and Hank Gilbert addressed the crowd by telephone.
The organizers of this event - Marsha Keffer (Chair, Pct. 405) and others did a great job! The food was terrific, the band was great, the fellowship was fun, and the candidates were inspiring.
I've posted a lot of pictures from the event, mostly of candidates and speakers, but there are many more that I have not posted. I'll put these all in a zip file and post them en-masse for anyone that is interested. The lighting wasn't all that great, so some of the pictures are a little dark.
Click the photo to see a bigger version and read more:
Texas Toad of the North Texas Liberal has an excellent post about British Petroleum (BP) and their failure to maintain their Alaskan pipelines. BP Executives were called on the carpet before the Energy and Commerce Committee (on which our Congressman Michael Burgess serves)
John McLeod is a fascinating and personable guy who is spending a lot of time these days selling himself and his vision for Texans in the 64th district. He's running for State Representative against incumbent Myra Crownover for the seat which represents most of Denton and The Colony and cities in between. John is a husband and father, living in Denton with his wife Carabeth and their daughter Mackenzie. John currently works as a mortgage banker, and his wife Carabeth is a middle school teacher.
Frustrated by the Texas legislature's inability to solve the problems with our public schools, he threw his hat in the ring this year, and he has a good chance of winning. His opponent, Myra Crownover doesn't really have her heart in the job, and didn't file for re-election until the last minute. She's not entirely embraced by members of her own party, as evidenced by the website www.dumpcrownover.com.
I don't want to spend a lot of space here going into the background of the race, and Ms. Crownover's less-than-stellar record. These topics are covered in better detail in the links at the bottom of this article. Rather, I want to get right into the interview, because John has a lot to say, and I must say that I'm impressed by his candor and I hope you will be too.
Map of Texas District 64
Whosplayin: John, thank you for taking the time to let our readers learn more about you and what you hope to do for them if you are elected.
John McLeod: I appreciate the opportunity.
Whosplayin: You've been politically active from a very young age. How long have you been a Democrat, and what factors in your upbringing and life experience have influenced that?
John McLeod: I am very proud to be a lifelong Democrat, from a family of lifelong Democrats. My father and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie were U.S. Senate pages under Senator Ralph Yarborough. My uncle Jim and Ann Richards ran Sarah Weddington's successful campaign for the Legislature. My Dad's father was the mayor of McAllen and my mother's father was a city councilman. My great grandfather was in the Texas Agriculture Commission and Farm Bureau. My great, great uncle was in the Texas Legislature, and his brother was the President of the University of Texas who led the impeachment of Gov. Ferguson. These were all humble, kind people who were not only committed lifelong Democrats but also deeply involved with their communities, families, and churches. I am blessed to count myself among them. I am a Democrat because they instilled our party's values in my heart by their example every day of my life.
Whosplayin: You were the child of a Presbyterian minister. How does your faith guide you in your political beliefs? What do you say to those who think Republicans have the "corner on Christ?"
John McLeod: My Mother, Jobeth McLeod is a Presbyterian minister in Alpine, TX. I was actually talking to her last night and she is in the middle of planning a fundraiser and meet-and-greet for Chris Bell incidentally.
I don't think that I can separate my political beliefs and my spiritual beliefs enough to really say where one begins and the other ends. In my mind public service, servanthood, spirituality, and being a good Democrat were always the same thing. When I volunteer with a soup kitchen it's both because I believe we're are all God's children and it's my Christian duty to do so, but also because as a Democrat I believe that we have a mutual responsibility to support one another. To whom much is given, much is required. As to having a monopoly on God all I can only say is that no one can truly say that God is on their side, only that they are on God's side.
Whosplayin: This question, for the benefit of my father-in-law: Are you a "godless liberal" hell-bent taking away Texans' guns?
John McLeod: I like your father-in-law already. No, the vast majority of Texans, myself included, generally support maintaining the status quo in terms of firearms laws. I am also a gun owner, skeet shooter, and hunter. The only new gun law I'd consider at this point is restricting the Vice President from handling a firearm within a three mile radius of me.
Whosplayin: Touché! I agree with you there, John. And I'm glad you're not a gun grabber. I have yet to meet a Texas Democratic candidate who is. WhosPlayin "tore Dick Cheney a new one" just over the fact that he was participating in a "canned hunt". What do you think about those?
John McLeod: Many people have been critical of the Vice President over the entire incident, including the editors of Field and Stream magazine. The bottom line is that firearms are deadly, and the consequence of failing to take the proper precautions will sometimes end in accidents that have the potential to kill. If you don't believe me ask any game warden and they can tell you some terrible stories. In Texas, we require hunters under a certain age, and encourage everyone, to take a one day hunter safety course from Texas Parks and Wildlife. It is worth noting that though the Vice President is an avid hunter and fisherman, he has never attended this course. Had he done so, he would have learned that some of the things he and his hunting partners were doing that day were a bad idea including:
Not purchasing the correct hunting license.
Consuming alcohol before using firearms.
Not establishing and clearing lanes of fire.
Moving forward through the field in an organized manner, so as not to allow hunters to fall back and the other hunters to loose track of them.
I have the benefit of hindsight, but I believe that had proper procedures been followed this accident might have been avoided. Even within the hunting world there is an ethical debate ongoing about the rapid increase in canned hunts. When I was growing up I never even heard of them, mostly because my family didn't find them consistent with our sense of sportsmanship and never participated in one.
Whosplayin: Care to brag on what's in your gun cabinet?
John McLeod: I'm pretty utilitarian. All I current have is a Mossberg 12 gauge pump. It works well for me in just about any situation, and isn't a gun that I'm going to worry about beating up. I'd love to own an over-and-under for skeet, and currently have my eye on a Beretta 20 gauge automatic. I'm not as athletic as I once was and I'd appreciate the reduced recoil the 20 gauge offers. After shooting a couple of boxes of 12 gauge shells at clay targets I usually have to pick my shoulder up off the floor before I head home. However I'm a married man and have a 10 month old baby at home. When push comes to shove I enjoy buying her toys and my wife a new pair of shoes more than getting myself a new shotgun. A wise man once told me that hunting season comes around every year, but you only get one chance to be a good husband and father. So for the time being I'd expect to have more Nike and Fisher-Price in my house than Berettas.
Whosplayin: Based on my earlier conversations with you, and hearing you speak, I know that fixing our public education system is the number one priority for you. It's also the number one issue that I hear from my neighbors, and fellow parents.
In your opinion, is the problem about mostly curriculum, or is it a matter of funding? What would you suggest to address any curricular problems?
John McLeod: I believe we need to make changes in both areas. There is a pretty clear consensus across the state that our schools simply do not have the investment they need to get the job done. Our schools are also suffering because their instructional curriculum is the product of a political process. Since George Bush was elected governor we have seen the trained educators with a lifetime of experience in the TEA replaced by politicians without formal training in education. In the past our leaders asked our teachers what resources they needed to teach our children, we worked hard to make that investment, and we all thrived. Now our politicians tell our teachers what to do. That makes about as much sense as having me write instructions on how to perform a heart transplant. I may have all the best intentions in the world, but if I don't have the proper training to do that the patient isn't going to make it. Sadly that's exactly what's happened in Texas. We've gone from having one of the best education systems in the world to the worst in the country. Let's put the professionals in charge again, give them what they need, and get out of their way.
Whosplayin: The most recent legislature, after several special sessions, seemed to have taken a bit of a short-sighted approach to fixing school funding. As I understand it they spent a budget surplus, then lowered property taxes and introduced a modified business franchise tax. Your opponent has been lambasted by members of her own party for voting for this new "income tax" for small business owners. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it was a good compromise, or just a way to duck the issue for 2 more years?
John McLeod: I think you may be giving the Legislature more credit than they deserve. The only thing that seems to have been solved during the last special session was putting a Band-Aid on the problem to prevent the court from shutting down the schools. All the effects of the legislation are still coming to light but here are a few:
The largest tax increase in the history of Texas.
Creation of an impending budget crisis when we don't have a surplus to spend.
An inequitable business tax where only businesses that didn't have lobbyists pay at the highest level.
What did we gain from this legislation? The average Texas homeowner should save around $6.00 a month on their property taxes, and not even one new dollar was invested in our schools. At this point I'd be happy to give back my $6.00, throw this bill away, and start from scratch on something that might actually work.
Whosplayin: John, I've spent a lot of time recently talking to regular folks - many of them Republicans - about various issues that affect the state and the nation. Though we disagree on many things, I am continually surprised by how close we stand on the issues that one might consider more important - especially education. One of my Republican neighbors - a long-time family friend, said "I don't care if they DOUBLE my property taxes. I want my kids to have a quality public education."
John McLeod: I like the enthusiasm, but I'd have to sell my house if anyone doubled my property taxes. The good news is that nothing that extreme is required. [Education] is the issue this election cycle to the vast majority of people you speak with. The bottom line is our kids deserve better, and if the people of our community send me to Austin, I will focus all my attention on it.
Whosplayin: John, this probably gets into "Third Rail" territory here in Texas, but do you have any feelings on whether property tax and sales tax are going to continue to be the major funding sources for our state, or do you think we'll ever see a personal state income tax? Proponents might say that at least that state income tax would be deductible on your federal return, right? On the other hand, we have proposals like Linder and Boortz's "Fair Tax" which is a consumption-based tax. Should I be putting on my bullet-proof vest right now?
John McLeod: For the near future at least, I think much of our revenue will continue to come from these two sources. Several times over the last 100 years there have been some serious attempts at creating a state income tax, most notably by former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock. The proponents argue that this would be a more equitable funding solution. While that may be true, the overwhelming majority of Texans strongly oppose its creation. As long as that's the case I wouldn't expect the status quo to change. As to Fair Tax, I've never thought that there is anything fair about it. This is just another regressive tax plan that's got a new name and the same old problems. We need to create a revenue system that is fair and equitable to all Texans, not just ones who can afford lobbyists.
Whosplayin: Why should Republican or conservative readers vote for you or any other Democrat for that matter, this November? Is this election about D vs. R, or is there an overriding theme here?
John McLeod: I really feel that the theme behind all the issues in this election cycle is how our leaders have stopped serving the public interest, and are now serving their own interests. If they really had our interest at heart we wouldn't have crumbling schools, wouldn't have cut hundreds of thousands of children from the Children's Health Insurance Program, and wouldn't have a new lobbying scandal every time we open a newspaper. I don't think those are partisan issues, they are just common sense. However, as I am a committed Democrat I can understand how an equally committed conservative or Republican would hesitate from crossing party lines. I'm a pretty moderate person both in my political and personal life, but I don't think that anyone should have to hold their nose to vote for me.
Whosplayin: I've always sort of considered it morally objectionable that property-poor school districts, specifically in rural areas, have less funding per student than property-rich districts. Property rich districts, such as the one that my children attend, and like many in your legislative district, pay the "Robin Hood" tax to help the other schools. As I see it, there is still not parity, and there is still not excellence for our own district. Is a per-district property tax really the best way to fund schools? What needs to happen with "Robin Hood"?
John McLeod: There are no easy answers to be had in terms if the disparity between districts. The Texas Constitution in effect does not allow for the creation of a state wide property tax, which could potentially resolve both the problems of parity and equity. The ultimate solution to this and many other problems will be to draft a new state constitution. While this has nearly 100% support from Texas history teachers, it has doesn't have much anywhere else. Until we can create a lasting solution, the Legislature will need to continue to create and adjust short term plans.
Whosplayin: I've heard that about our Texas Constitution for a number of years. I think I first recall it from one of my own teachers more than 20 years ago. I went to read it tonight and read that the State of Texas DOESN'T EVEN OWN IT! West law service has it copyrighted! I'd personally like to see it not only cleaned up, but perhaps a new provision for citizen initiatives added. Do you think that will ever happen, given our short legislative sessions? Would you support it, or is this a low priority thing?
John McLeod: I have no doubt that drafting a new state constitution would have lasting benefits for all Texans. There are a variety of challenges that would need to be overcome before the Legislature could begin the process with any hope of success. I am an optimist, and would be very proud to look back and know that I contributed in some small way. However, I'm the first person who's going to tell you I am a very regular guy. Some truly great men and women, giants in the history of Texas, have tried and failed to push a new constitution through. I'm not ready to give up on it, but I've got my feet on the ground.
Whosplayin: What other issues would you hope to tackle in the Texas Legislature? Aside from Education and Taxes, what issues do you think Texans need addressed? Are there issues that you think are important, but may be "under-the-radar" for most Texans?
John McLeod: There are lots of things that I'd love to work on, but I plan to focus initially on two crucial areas. First, we need to ensure access to affordable healthcare for all Texas children. This is going to require the immediate restoration of the Children's Health Insurance Program funds that Gov. Perry threw away, and then the creation of a new statewide program to cover every child. We can't build a better state without children's healthcare because sick kids can't learn. Ask any teacher. Second, we must create legislation to end the pay to play lobbying system in Texas, and give the Texas Ethics Commission the tools and directive to enforce the law. Our representatives must strictly honor their commitment to serve the people, and only the people. When they fail to do so there must be consequences or our state will continue to be for sale to the highest bidder.
Whosplayin: The yearly salary for a State Representative in Texas is only a paltry $7,200 per year, plus a small per-diem amount that would barely cover hotel expenses in Austin when the legislature is in session. As perturbed as I am at the legislature for their failures this past year, I can't help but wonder if that low salary is part of the reason that they're selling out. In a state this big and rich, do you think we could ever increase that salary to something more livable, so that legislators could focus more time on getting the job done instead of getting by?
John McLeod: I just finished reading former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes memoir and even he was complaining about the salary in the late 60's. I do believe that the low salary has contributed in several ways to the problems of the Legislature. First, it deters well qualified people who want to serve their communities from doing so if they are not personally wealthy or are not fortunate enough to have a very understanding employer as I do. Second, in an environment with limited ethics enforcement and fairly lax campaign finance laws, it just opens up the doors for corruption. No bank in their right mind would pay someone $7,200 a year to guard all the money, have no oversight system in place, no enforcement system in place, and expect none of that money to disappear. When you combine personal financial stress with the opportunity for personal enrichment without a reasonable expectation of consequences, good people are much more likely to make bad decisions. I have read studies that hypothesize by increasing the Legislative annual salary to the nationwide legislative average of $50,000, strengthening campaign finance laws, and giving the Texas Ethics Commission teeth we would increase salary expenses by about $5,600,000 a year, but could reduce graft and overspending by tens of millions annually. Clearly this is an idea that deserves some consideration, but it is hard to implement as no one ever likes the idea of lawmakers giving themselves a raise no matter how good of an idea it is.
Whosplayin: We've heard a lot lately about the Trans-Texas Corridor, and the increasing reliance on toll-roads. Whatever happened to using our public money to build public infrastructure for our state? What is with the privatization? Tell us your thoughts about the Trans-Texas Corridor.
John McLeod: The first person that ever expressed concern to me on the Trans-Texas corridor was Denton County Farm Bureau President Tommy Calvert. To their credit farmers have been pushing and sustaining the opposition to this development and others. I think this is a bad idea, a misuse of funds, and a misuse of eminent domain. We do need to continue to develop our transportation infrastructure but this is not the way.
Whosplayin: For those of our readers who do not reside in your district, but would like to help you, how can they help?
John McLeod: I always tell people who live outside my district that it is never too late sell your house and move here. If you don't like that idea I'd ask to do three things: First, vote and make sure all your family members and friends do the same. Tell them about what important issues are being decided and how their vote can help make things better. Studies show this is the most effective and persuasive way to make changes. Second, volunteer your time with our campaign. You can help in person or online, for as short or as long as you can. Every little bit counts. Third, please make a campaign donation of any amount. We've only made it this far thanks to the generosity of our donors, mostly in $5 donations.
Whosplayin: To contribute, our readers would go where?
John McLeod: The easiest way to contribute is by visiting our website at www.mcleodfortexas.com, and clicking "Contribute". If that doesn't work for you we will accommodate you however we need to. I assure you there is no one in this world more accommodating than people running for office.
A generous donor has agreed to match the first $500 in contributions through Monday, September 4th. Readers can have their contributions doubled by visiting Barnwell's website at www.barnwellforcongress.com/contribute.
Here is Barnwell's message to his supporters today:
It's now time to get Tim Barnwell's new Air America radio ads playing. Airtime is expensive, but we hope that the initial targeted ads will help us raise much needed money so that we can target mainstream radio. As you may have heard, this has worked well for Barbara Ann Radnofsky. We need seed money to start this off for Tim Barnwell, and one of our supporters has agreed to MATCH 100% of the next $500 in contributions to the campaign through September 4, 2006 help us now at barnwellforcongress.com.
Normally, your contribution of $25 will buy us two 30 second ads. With this challenge grant, your - $25 turns into $50 and will buy four 30 second ads. - $50 turns into $100 and will buy eight 30 second ads - $100 turns into $200 and will buy sixteen 30 second ads - $250 turns into $500 and will buy forty 30 second ads
Your financial support right now is an investment in good government and will multiply in two ways: 1. Your contribution will be matched 100% (for the first $500 received) 2. These ads will encourage more contributions, which we can then use to target the mainstream radio stations that our likely voters will be listening to as the election nears.
PS. Want to listen to our first ad? Visit the Barnwellforcongress.com website!
(Note: The ad is not yet posted on Barnwell's website, but you can listen to it by clicking on the link at the top of this post.)
By the way, Tim's campaign reports that their recent request for your help in paying for 1000 BARNWELL FOR CONGRESS yard signs was very successful. They offer "Our deepest thanks to all of you who chipped in………the signs will start appearing throughout the district late next week!"
If you weren’t able to help with the sign drive, this is a great time to make your contribution to help gain Democratic control of Congress by sending Tim Barnwell to Washington.
As I mentioned in the first post, I am an IT Consultant, and not a professional reporter. I did not have the benefit of a tape recorder, so these quotes are my best recollection, based on my paper notes taken during the meeting. I’ve tried to fairly represent what people said. Names have been shortened to protect the privacy of some of the individuals in attendance.
…Now Burgess opens the floor to questions:
Immediately a woman stands up and says “You know what I’m going to ask”, and Burgess says he does.
Q1: Question regarding the “National Animal ID System” – something that affects livestock owners and people with horses that purportedly would require them to notify a government agency every time they move the animal off the property. Burgess doesn’t know much about it, but mentions that he still has the 60 page document the woman gave him at the previous town hall meeting. It comes out that she’s talking about TX HB 1361, which supposedly is already in effect. She claims there’s a “federal voluntary implementation by 2010”.
Burgess: Tries to quell her concerns and states that he’ll have someone look into it. That she can rest assured that something “voluntary by 2010” is unlikely to come to fruition.
Q2: R. L. of Denton: His wife is a Russian Immigrant, a pediatrician, who has been waiting several years on her green-card so that she can get to work. He’s frustrated at the slowness of the bureaucracy and even more frustrated that “illegal aliens might get to the front of the line” when his own wife is here legally, doing things the right way.
Burgess: Well, “I cannot defend the policies of the Department of Homeland Security”. He goes on to sympathize with the man and asks if his office is helping him. The man responds that he has been working with the Lewisville office. Burgess explains that there is currently an 11 year wait for green cards, and goes back into talking about controlling our borders. “Both Northern and Southern” he says. “We have to control the Northern border too, because we have WAY too many Oklahomans coming down”. (At this point APPLAUSE and laughter from the audience)
Q3: What is the government doing to promote mass transport? I think its image should be improved so as to attract the middle to upper-income people.
Burgess: I think the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) has done an excellent job working to get rail service. In order for that to work, DART must meet the DCTA line in Carrollton. Though he doesn’t want to “give any more money to DART”, he will in order to get the line into Carrollton to connect with DCTA. In fact, he says they just now appropriated the full $700 million for DART. He goes on to explain that he thinks DART needs to do a better job “capturing more in the fare box” in Dallas. He says he doesn’t have a car in Washington, and that he uses the Metro there for transportation. He names the fare he pays and implies that the fare is fair.
Follow-up Question – same citizen: I’d like to ask you about “corporate socialism” in the form of company provided health care benefits. The woman explains that she thinks the practice of employers providing health-care benefits should be ended because it is a form of socialism that must be stopped and it devastates families when they lose employment and lose their coverage at the same time.
Burgess: (seeming to realize that she’s an extremist nut at this point) says he wouldn’t necessarily equate it with socialism, but tried to give a brief history of how the practice got started and that it had something to do with wage controls, and that company provided health-care was a way to get around wage controls by providing value to the employee without breaking the law, and that since then generations have come to expect it, and that it’s just how it works now, and that it couldn’t be stopped. With the government de-regulation of HSA’s and MSA’s, more and more individuals are now becoming insured. He says there are now only 41.2 million people here without insurance, and that this number represents a small decline, that he thinks is attributable to HSA’s and MSA’s.
Followup #2 – same nut: But we should “cut the leash”…
Burgess: Disagrees and thinks that what we need to do is make more options available, and that it would have to represent a very gradual social change – not something you could do overnight.
Followup #3 – same nut: “Well, I do think that there are some things the government could do as far as screenings that would detect things like Diabetes and such and thus reduce ER costs”.
Burgess: (seeming slightly annoyed that this lady won’t shut up already, but still being gracious) I agree. Yes, next question?
Q4: J. D. from Keller: I have an idea I haven’t heard anyone else mention, and I thought I’d propose it to you: I propose that we pass a tax on alien labor – something like $.50 to $1 per hour on legal alien labor and $2 – $3 per hour on illegal alien labor. That would be a disincentive to employers, and they’d quit hiring them because they don’t want to pay the tax.
Burgess: Well, I’d say that the employer in this case has already chosen to break the law, and that they wouldn’t’ pay this tax anyway. By the way, there is some rhetoric from the other side about illegal aliens taking jobs that Americans “wouldn’t’ do”, but I don’t believe that. I think the illegal alien labor force is driving down the cost of labor, and is reducing the prices that employers are willing to pay for certain work. I think these ARE jobs that Americans would do if there were not illegals here doing it for less. So I’d disagree with your proposal, but nevertheless, I might mention it to some of the more impassioned members of my party.
Follow-up from same person: But with this, you could use the Department of the Treasury to enforce the law with employers.
Burgess: Disagrees. Again, these employers have already chosen to break the law. By the way, we have a pilot program that allows employers to match Names and SSNs. Right now by law an employer can’t question someone’s identification if they produce a document that somewhat resembles a real ID. They’re prohibited by law from doing that, but we have a pilot program that allows employers to match up SSNs with Names. It takes less than a day and only costs about $1.50 per name. We could even further subsidize that. It has a very high success rate. 90% of the time when the name and SSN matches, the person has the legal right to work here. Likewise, 90% of the time, when they don’t match, the person does not have the legal right to work here. Admittedly, there are occasional mistakes with the SSA getting numbers mixed up, or people change their names as a result of getting married and such. Employers should all have to play by the same rules.
Follow-up from same person: It makes me angry that we have voter registration cards that have Spanish on them. Illegal aliens can just show up with a water bill and register to vote with no ID. We shouldn’t have aliens voting, and we shouldn’t have Spanish ballots. (At this point APPLAUSE from the audience)
Burgess: (I didn’t catch Burgess’s response here due to the applause, but I think it was just a polite acknowledgement).
Q5: “Admiral F., retired military” My question is about I’m not sure the number of the bill, I think it’s house bill 504, which would prevent the slaughter of horses for foreign consumption in the US. Do you support this?
Burgess: Well, yes, I think “any time we can poke a finger in the eyes of the French, we should do so.” (LOUD APPLAUSE at this point)
Followup question – same man: I’m concerned that Defense spending is too low as a portion of GNP – going down.
Burgess: Spoke briefly about defense spending, and that it’s considered a “discretionary item”. 52% of the budget is spent on entitlements. Medicaid alone is $330 Billion and has been growing at a rate of 7.7%. What we did was we rolled back the rate of growth by .3% With Student loans, what we did was we reduced subsidies to lenders in the form of guarantees of their 9% rate of return, which is better than you and I can get.
Not sure what the context was, but he talked briefly about child support enforcement, and that they have “too much of an administrative budget”.
He speaks again about the appropriations process, saying that there is pork in it. He says it should be tight and transparent. But he says that he’s “not going to unilaterally disarm”. He says that 183 is an earmark, and I-35 E is an earmark. (I did note that Burgess once sponsored a $5 million bill for expanding I-35 E through Denton County. That bill died in committee. It’s a shame. That could have bought several hundred feet of roadway.)
Q6 – Person asks about the matter of local law enforcement not being able to enforce federal immigration laws.
Burgess: I can’t defend the practice. I’ve heard a lot from border county sheriffs. They ask for DHS money...
Follow-up by same person: What about this Trans-Texas-Corridor. I’ve heard this thing will run all the way up to the Northern border. It will have a customs facility in Kansas City, staffed with Mexicans. The funding is private, and they’re going to charge a toll, but they’re using eminent domain to grab the land.
Burgess: I’ve only recently begun to hear about this. I don’t know a lot of the details. But something this large is going to take a long time to do. Talks about the growth of our area and how there will need to be infrastructure – roads and power plants. Mentions that TXU wants to put in 12 new coal-fired power plants, and he doesn’t know that these plants and the toll way are necessarily the answers we need.
Follow-up by same person: Complains that they went to an open meeting of the TxDOT, and they’re all acting like it’s a “done deal”.
Burgess: Said something along the lines that it is probably not as much of a done deal as they think, but didn’t condemn it.
Q7: A Latina teacher from Keller schools gave a short speech about why she thought that we as Americans should “Respect the English Language” (More applause from the Audience)
Burgess at this point mentions again about his campaign to get the Congressional Gold Medal for Byron Nelson. He says that he’s got to get the Senate to pass the bill, and every week he tries to meet with someone on some Senator’s staff – he mentions that Senators are much too busy to talk to lowly representatives. He tells the audience that he’s gotten Senator Clinton’s sponsorship. He also mentions that though he and John Murtha disagree on a lot of things, Murtha has signed on, so this is a truly bipartisan bill. At this point he dismisses the town hall, and people leave or crowd around to ask him questions. I snap a few pictures and leave.
As you can see, there was at least one other Democrat in attendance. (This is not my car)
Last month, I took my wife and my two sons along to Congressman Michael Burgess’ (R, TX-26) Roanoke, TX “Town Hall” meeting. My purpose was to ask Mr. Burgess about living wages. This was around the time that Congress was trying to pass the “Extortion of the Working Poor” act, which tied a long-overdue raise in the minimum wage to a repeal of the inheritance tax for multi-millionaires. Another goal of mine, since I often write about Burgess for my blog, was to get an original photo of him to use on the website.
Though I brought along a video camera, with the thought that it might be interesting viewing for others later, the layout and atmosphere didn’t really seem conducive to video-taping. I wish now that I had brought a tape recorder, because an awful lot was said, and my note-taking skills are not those of a professional reporter. Because of this, all quotes in the text below are close paraphrases to the best of my recollection, unless specifically noted. I didn’t originally intend to publish this account. It’s really long, and probably only interesting to a small number of people – particularly those who are interested as I am, in replacing him in Washington with someone more effective at helping the people of North Texas. That being said, I’ve taken great pains to represent his words accurately out of some sense of journalistic integrity. Just know that I couldn’t resist inserting my own opinions and rebuttals clearly marked in the text.
If the conversation seems at times incoherent, there are two reasons: 1. I was quite often flabbergasted by what I was hearing, and would stop taking notes so that I could get a good look at the crowd and the speaker. 2. The conversation WAS at times incoherent. Mostly this was due to the nature of the audience, and not Mr. Burgess himself.
Not being very familiar with traffic between Lewisville, where I live, and Roanoke, we left a bit early and arrived a bit early. It was a nice sunny warm day as we drove through the quaint cozy downtown area of Roanoke. We pulled in to the Roanoke city hall about 1:20 pm – the event was to start at 2pm.
Not many cars were there, so we were able to park right up front at the city hall. As I was gathering my notes, I looked up and saw Mr. Burgess walk past, alone. He had parked two 2 spots down from me. He gave a glance and nod as he walked past. I have a “Barnwell for Congress” sticker on the back of the car, so he no doubt saw it as he pulled up.
Attendance: I counted 51 seats in addition to the tables and seats set up by Burgess’s staff. Not every seat was filled, but some were standing, so I estimate that with Burgess’s staff in addition to the Roanoke officials present, such as the Mayor, and a police sergeant with the Roanoke PD, there were probably 50 – 60 people there.
There was a sign-in table handled by a blonde woman (I didn’t get her name) who runs Burgess’s Fort Worth office. There were cards with blanks for name and address, and whether or not you’d like to receive info from Burgess’s office. On the cards was a small portion at the bottom with “office use only” codes on them – nothing decipherable.
The woman asked if we’d like to have our pictures taken with the Congressman. We said sure, since I wanted to try to get a good photo of Burgess that I can use royalty-free in my blog. She told us to hold on to the card, and we took our seats and waited for the fun to begin.
I noticed that Burgess’s Lewisville office manager (I didn’t get her name) was manning a separate table next to the sign in table. She was talking to someone about service academy appointments. One of Burgess’s assistants had a computer and projector displaying a map of the district on the side wall, opposite where they were taking pictures in front of a big American flag on a metal frame seemingly fabricated for this purpose.
People were lined up against the wall on the side of the room with the flag, waiting for pictures with Michael Burgess. We remained seated as I really wasn’t too warm on the idea of having my picture taken with him – not so much that I dislike the guy as a person, but in the back of my mind was this vision of me running for public office some day and having my opponent in the primaries show this photo of me, my family and Burgess standing together like good buddies.
To his credit, Burgess was affable and personable, talking to each person as they had their pictures taken. Burgess had two young men working as interns or assistants helping with the picture-taking, with one operating the camera.
Eventually, the line dwindled, and the blonde woman who had signed us in reminded me to go have our pictures taken. Somewhat reluctantly, we all got up and got in line. I took my own camera, and asked the photographer if he would mind taking a picture with it.
I introduced myself by name and shook Burgess’s hand, and he seemed genuine and cordial. We posed for 3 shots, and then I asked him how he liked his Prius. He then recalled that he’d seen me in my Prius, and asked me what year it was: 2004 or 2005. I told him it was a 2006. He and I chatted about modding the Prius with extended batteries or plug-in chargers. He said he wouldn’t mod his, but knew of others who do it. He thought the removable plug in the front bumper of the car may have something to do with charging. I told him I thought it was a tow pintle connection. I told him I wished that we could have these things built here in America, and sold for about $10,000 less. He agreed and added that he thought Roanoke would be a great place to build them. I told him I’d love to figure a way to plug mine in to charge it so that gasoline wouldn’t be such a requirement. Interestingly, before I could even bring it up, he told me “Well, you’d be plugging in to power generated by burning coal.” That bit of understanding made me smile. I said that yes, I’d like to have solar cells on the roof of my garage. He mentioned that he’d like to have solar cells on the car itself, and perhaps have the car run on E85 ethanol instead of gasoline. He said he was amazed at how low they were able to keep the prices on the Prius. He asked if I didn’t mind, he was curious what I paid for it. I told him that I’d bought it used (208 miles) for $27,500. He was shocked. He said he paid just over $20,000 for his 2 years ago*. I told him that currently dealers are charging a $6k “market adjustment” premium over MSRP. He seemed to note it with interest.
(* Kelley Blue book confirms that Priuses were selling for just over $20,000 for the 2004 models.)
Then as the conversation dwindled, he turned to me again and said something like “Oh, by the way, are you the Steve S**** that does WhosPlayin.com?” I said that I was and that I assumed he probably wasn’t a fan. (I had just the previous week posted a picture of him with a dunce cap on) He noted that he kept tabs on news in the district through a variety of sources, and that he read my site.
Up to this point, I had figured that I was fairly anonymous since I generally don’t use my real name in my online postings, though someone with any technical skill could easily figure that out. Now realizing that he knew who I was, I figured I didn’t have much chance of getting a question answered. I exchanged pleasantries once again, and took my seat to wait for the meeting. Several other people had their pictures taken, and then the Mayor of Roanoke introduced Congressman Burgess, and Burgess started the meeting.
Again, I want to stress here that I am an IT Consultant and computer programmer – not a professional reporter. The following paragraphs are expanded from my raw notes taken on paper. Much was said that I didn’t catch, or couldn’t write quickly enough to capture. Where possible, I tried to fill in by memory. I really wish I’d had a tape recorder. Most of the citizens asking questions did not state their names for the record. Some who did were unintelligible, so it was not written. In any case, those names that I did get have been shortened to avoid embarrassing anyone.
Burgess says this is the second meeting he had attended that day. His wife thinks he’s just trying to get out of mowing the lawn. The audience chuckles. He just didn’t want to mow on a day with high ozone. Nodding towards the police officer in the room, he recounts a story about his first encounter with Roanoke law enforcement, being pulled over at 3am on the night before his first runoff election when he and his wife Laura were out putting out campaign signs.
He says that the first town hall meeting earlier that morning ran long and he didn’t get to cover much of the material he had prepared, so this meeting he was going to speak about mostly different things, and wouldn’t be repeating himself much. It may go over but he wants to allow plenty of time for questions.
He spoke briefly about the service academies and that each congressional district is entitled to some appointments, and that he has sent 26 North Texans so far, and will do his best to help people find appointments through his office.
He spoke about constituent services and that people can contact his offices to help “grease the wheels” when the government agencies are not getting the job done.
He mentions that he is on the prestigious Energy and Commerce committee and that he was pleasantly surprised to be appointed there on his second term. He had it as a third-term goal.
He mentions that on his way to Iraq last week, he stopped in Geneva and spoke with some doctor at the World Health Organization about the possibility of pandemic avian flu. He says he’s happy with the preparedness and cooperation between WHO and its US counterpart.
He says he wants to spend some time talking about healthcare, and that consistently the topic of healthcare is on everyone’s list of priorities. It’s only about 4th or 5th, he says, but “it’s 4th or 5th on everyone’s list”. “When we talk about healthcare what we really are talking about,” he says, “is the affordability aspects of healthcare.” He preemptively dismissed a single-payer system, presenting it as being mutually exclusive with a private-sector solution. I don’t recall whether he used the word “socialized” as some Republicans are so fond of using. He mentioned briefly some Dallas Morning News article on the subject, and dismissed that.
At some point here, he threw out the figure as he is fond of quoting in the congressional record that about 50% of healthcare dollars originate in Washington. Though I’ve read those words before in his speeches, and have now heard it, I’m still not quite sure what that has to do with anything.
He acknowledged a problem with Medicare, and says he hears from constituents all the time “Why is it that when I turned 65 I had to change doctors?” He says the reason is because the yearly declines in Medicare reimbursement rates are causing accessibility problems, and that top-rate doctors will no longer work for those rates, thus the elderly must use “2nd and 3rd tier” providers. He says he wants to change this.*
(* Burgess has introduced a bill (H.R. 5866) recently aimed at fixing this problem. I have yet to analyze it, but I will post a link and some analysis when I get a chance. It's very hard for a layman to understand the text.)
He says that what he’s done to help healthcare become more affordable is to remove government restrictions from Medical Savings Accounts and Health Savings Accounts, thus increasing the number of providers of these accounts which are coupled usually with high-deductible insurance. He goes on to give stats on how many providers there are now compared with 1996 when he first got one for himself. (For more details on this, just look at Burgess’ statements on the Congressional Record – he repeated his stump speech for MSA’s and HSA’s almost verbatim)
Now about 20 minutes after 2, he talks about what he wants Congress to do about continuing to increase affordability of healthcare. He says he wants Congress to pass national laws removing various individual states’ coverage requirements and trumping them with an overriding Federal law. The coverage requirements, he says already exist for the FQHCs (Federally Qualified Healthcare Centers), and that Congress should start from there and add and subtract as necessary.
He did NOT mention Medicare part D coverage at all. (You may remember that Burgess voted for the part D coverage with the provision that the federal government could not negotiate with the drug companies for the prices of these medications. Burgess and his wife own stock in 4 major drug companies, and he has accepted campaign contributions from big pharma as well. Burgess and his wife own between $5,006 and $76,000 worth of Pharma stock. Don’t you just love those loose reporting requirements?)
He spoke for a moment about the state of Massachusetts and how they are a different constituency with different problems. They had a system called “Free Care” that was “quite expensive”. Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, along with the Democrat-controlled legislature passed universal health coverage requiring citizens to be insured. He says he withholds judgment on whether or not it will work but says that he suspects by 2008 when Romney is running for President, we’ll know more, and it will either be really good or really bad. “Time will tell.” As an aside, he explains that the only way they got this bill passed was for the Governor and the Legislature to “get the Health Services department out of the room during the discussion” because of the “turf battles”.
At this point, he says he wants to spend just a moment talking about Border Security. He says “we passed a good bill in the house” that “didn’t receive a lot of attention.” (This was the bill that made headlines because it criminalized anyone, including clergy who knowingly assisted illegal immigrants) He says it had great provisions for border enforcement and also for improved methods for employers to verify the legal status of prospective employees. Then the Senate passed a program that was “not so good,” because “it included a guest worker program”. Burgess says he recently “visited the border” and dropped a few names of other politicians who had gone down to see the problem. He says that if someone had bothered to look at this problem back in 93 or 96, or 86 when the last amnesties were, then we wouldn’t have to be dealing with this now. (At this point I’m thinking to myself so loudly – YES – if Republicans had dealt with it in 2001 when there was political will and they were in control)
Burgess says he’s not interested in voting on any bills with anything other than border security addressed, but left open the possibility that after that problem is solved he might be willing to look at a guest worker program.
On the subject of gas prices, Burgess commented that it looked like the prices in the western part of the district were a bit less than those on the east side. He indicated that through congressional oversight, he was originally concerned that maybe the oil companies were “taking advantage of a situation after Katrina,” but that he was now “convinced that it wasn’t the case,” and that as a vertical industry, there were so many stages in the process with such small profit margins. But he said “A little larceny at each station of the process can have a big effect” (this is quoted as accurately as possible)
He gives nods to the oil industry at this point actually commending them for getting back on track and getting prices back down and production back up as quickly as possible, saying “the system worked as it should”, also pointing out that Congress had a hand by eliminating certain gas formulation requirements in the wake of the hurricane.
He blames current high gas prices on Congress’s failure to grant a liability waiver to producers of the chemical MTBE, which he attempts to present “both sides” of, saying that it was meant to help oxygenate gasoline to curb emissions, but that it’s been turning up in the environment, and that it had been “controversially labeled as carcinogenic, even though nobody has come forward with a case of cancer caused by MTBE”. As a result he says gasoline producers have quit using it (At this point I’m screaming in my head YES - Victory!!!) and have started to use Ethanol instead, which demand drove up the price for, and which provides less combustion energy, thus decreasing your gas mileage. He paints the MTBE thing as a controversy, but concedes “that’s how it’s going to be”.
(Funny, I seem to remember people complaining very loudly back when MTBE was first introduced, about how it was decreasing gas mileage. Nice job trying to pin high gas prices on “tree-huggers” while giving props to the oil industry)
Burgess mentioned the Energy Bill, (the $8.5 billion corporate welfare package of incentives and tax breaks) which he thinks was a good balance between helping increase domestic oil production, and R&D into alternatives, and “speaking of alternatives, Nuclear is included”.
(He didn’t go into any detail about Nuclear, but I would love to have asked him why politicians seem to be so fond of it, though the power industry itself is not. Note that Burgess has received campaign contributions from the nuclear industry – most likely the companies that manufacture reactors, not the ones that operate them – just speculating on that though)
He mentions a couple of local companies in the 26th district – one of which manufactures solar panels that use lenses, and another of which manufactures the “finest wind turbine blades you can find” and is located in Gainesville. He mentions that if you see a big wind turbine on the back of a truck tying up traffic on I-35, these are the Brazilian ones that fall apart in storms.
(Interestingly enough, I have actually seen these huge blades traveling north on I-35E through Lewisville. It’s hard to describe how ginormous these things actually are, but it’s awe-inspiring to see them going into service. I’m proud to hear that we have our own producer in the district. Lets hope more people will start buying their power from companies that use them.)
Burgess explains that he’s been busy lately, that it’s been the “appropriations season” and that “I cannot tell you that congress has been thrifty”. He explains that the greatest costs are “entitlement spending”, and that although there have been “loud noises from the other side about how we’re cutting vital social programs, all we’re doing is squeezing the administrative budgets of these agencies.”
Lastly, Burgess explains that he’s never been happier in his life in a profession since going into public service, although it “doesn’t pay as well as doctoring”.
(At this point I think about my own family doctor, an OB-Gyn. / Family Practitioner, who owns her own practice and told me once that she probably makes less than I do, and I make about half of what a Congressman makes.)