Sheets vs. Vaught debate

I attended the Kenneth Sheets vs. Allen Vaught debate tonight at Dallas’s Lochwood Library. Their responses to each point is below. It moved quickly, but I tried my best just to bang out accurate summaries of their main points.

While the moderator read questions, I thought of what my response would have been. They are in the third column.

Issue Kenneth Sheets
Republican
Allen Vaught
Democrat
Aren Cambre
Village Idiot
Prisoners count for census figures, overcompensating census counts for benefits for rural areas where prisons are located Hasn’t studied well, but feels it doesn’t make sense. Agrees it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense, but more rules and regs. have real costs, so want to better understand the harm before committing to action.
School vouchers More important: “How are we financing our schools?” Opposes. Opposes vouchers. Vouchers should be on the table for students zoned to lowest-performing schools.
Arizona immigration law Opposes. Enforce laws already on books. Supports Irving’s CAP program for illegals who have committed a crime; says it has improved Irving’s crime rate. Perry says he wouldn’t support it, so probably not on table. Crisis in El Paso. More unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic surveillance, manned aircraft. Enough laws already on books to help with situation. Oppose. Local law enforcement is about stopping crime, not checking papers. Immigration is secondary importance for locals.
Redistricting Agrees with Vaught. Needs to be apolitical, reflect communities, voting patterns, wills & values of people. TX picking up 4 seats. Don’t gerrymander. Not “Tom Delay” redistricting; fair redistricting. Collin County, etc. to gain, west Texas may lose representation. (not sure what I would have said)
Voter ID? Yes, would support it. Imperative to keep integrity in voting system. The most recent bill that was considered had plenty of provisions to prevent disenfranchisement. Similar bills in GA and IN were successful, voting rates went up. Right to vote = fundamental. Not opposed to voter ID that makes sense. Worried about some boundary situations (e.g., at age 85, you don’t automatically get driver’s license renewal). Brought up Betty Brown from Terrell. The problem solved by voter ID appears exaggerated, but the bill in front of the 2009 legislature was very reasonable.
Rebuttal Vaught supported bill that would allow same-day registration. (missed his response to the rebuttal)  N/A
Bullet trains Agree with Vaught. Lots of issues with RoW and landowner rights. Not enough RoW. Funding: huge TX budget shortfall, can we really support it? Maybe when economy recovers. “Absolutely need to reform our transportation issues.” We have trains in Europe (or Asia?) that go “700 miles per hour” [um, no!! -Aren]. Needed to relieve congestion. Mentioned public/private partnership as possible model. Need it, but have issues with landowner rights. We already have high speed rail. It’s called Southwest Airlines. Oppose any public dollars spent on this. If it makes sense, private investors will do it.
Attorney General opposition to Obamacare Supports. Federal health care bill is drain on economy, job killer, we cannot afford it. Vaught supported study for implementation of universal health care in Texas. Will hurt economy, cost jobs, state cannot afford spending. Nixon was first to push health care reform. Wait and see what Obamacare rules look like. Concerned about how Texas will afford this. Good that no preexisting denials, abuse prevention, etc. AG suits against Obamacare are probably futile. Generally prefer scrapping and starting over with market-based solution, but possibly retaining the best provisions during scrappage.
$21 bil budget deficit All Texans will have to work together to solve. “Shared responsibility and shared sacrifices.” Will require cuts. Will use part of rainy day fund. Vaught voted last time against rule that would have limited spending, which would have meant less rainy day fund today. Raising taxes are “cancer for economy.” Texas facing financial crisis unlike that in modern time. “Centrist Democrat” ideas on how to attack. “Diet pill for anorexic” to indicate leanness of budget. Increase tuition by $500/pp for out of state. Encourage state employee attrition. Etc. It’s going to hurt. Sure, eliminate waste, but fixing the gap won’t happen without significant cuts. So voting for me is a vote for principle of limiting the scope of government is the best way to grow the economy.
(rebuttal) (response to rebuttal) Rule was very simple. Voting against the rule, you want to increase spending and tap rainy day fund. Vote was not to raid rainy day fund. Wanted all cards on table until we knew if stimulus was accepted.
EPA—do we need stricter standards? EPA raised emissions standards. Texas is success story in reducing airborne contaminants. Has made standards stricter due to faulty science. We’re chasing moving field goal. We’re doing well: replacing vehicles, fleet vehicle improvements. We can do nuclear energy. Will bring down energy rates. Smog standards are not on junk science. Dallas is non-attainment zone under prior, “Bush administration standards” (which were less stringent—not sure that’s correct?). Don’t need to lose highway dollars. We need to take a close look at the TCEQ. Its actions are often a farce, and it considers proposals that burden taxpayers financially and add red tape to their daily lives.
(rebuttal) Agree with Vaught that we need to improve air, but standards need to be based on solid science. CA is reducing standards because theirs were based on faulty data. We need to make sure the science is sound before we set standards. (no counter-rebuttal)
How to create jobs in Texas? Will you increase taxes? “Raising revenue” and “closing a loophole” = tax increase. Dallas and Dallas County raised taxes. Bush tax cuts may expire. Do not need state government raising taxes. “That’s how we raise jobs.” Need to allow small businesses to spent more. Predictable tax structure.Don’t create unnecessary regulations. Controlling taxes = create more jobs in TX, generate “better revenue.” Growing jobs: tax incentives. Investing in cleaner technologies. Need to lead in this.Taxes: (pause) Need to do “everything possible to refrain from raising taxes.” Raised exemption on margin tax last session; will keep it. Need to cut property taxes. Need to close loopholes. Eliminate business discount for business paying taxes on time; modern businesses don’t need this. The best way creating jobs is to get the government out of the way of a healthy private sector. With one exception, I oppose tax increases. I oppose stealth taxes. [The stealth tax question asked later was mine.] I oppose targeted tax cuts–they’re really backdoor government mandates–and instead prefer a fair, simple tax system with low rates for all, not just the politically favored.
Zero corporate tax rate: do you support keeping it? Hasn’t studied much. In favor of looking at everything (didn’t catch his response, but it didn’t seem that consequential) Not sure about this, but I want disclosure of real estate sales prices. Nondisclosures lets many avoid property taxation. However, this cannot be a tax revenue bonanza. I demand a revenue neutral approach: any additional revenue must be offset by lower rates for all.
Lottery audit? All for transparent government. Let’s audit it. Sunset review is a good way to review agencies. In favor of accountability. It was designed to put funds in general revenue. Audit it. Probably would also have given a general support of transparency, but I don’t know enough to comment.
What kind of voter identification is done for mail in ballots where voter fraud is rampant? Voted in 2008 RPT primary from Iraq by absentee. Complicated. Have to read instructions carefully. Needs to be looked at. We need to do everything we can to ensure integrity of voting system, that votes are not diluted by voter fraud. Not a single document that proves fraud at polls. (lots of laughter and audience snickers) re: voter ID: Not burning down forest to look for (mumble). Haven’t studied well enough. Oregon is 100% absentee ballot; how do they do it?
(rebuttal) How to catch voter impersonation when there’s not a law to catch it? (no counter-rebuttal)
Converting Interstate highways to toll roads Against turning any existing road into toll road. But for sensical use of tolls. Against it. Nope, although we aren’t raising enough money to maintain and improve the “free” roads already in the system. If we do nothing, we’ll have to toll our way into any future improvement. I would support ending massive gas tax diversions to the DPS and and TxDOT reform before considering a tax increase.
State taking over local school taxes Also hasn’t heard of any rumors. Agree that state has obligation—Constitutional mandate—to fairly fund public schools. Lots of questions about funding and schools. We have high school nearby that spent more $$$ per pupil than much better nearby schools that ranked much better. (My interpretation.) Statewide property tax? Haven’t heard rumors of this. Texas Constitution does say Legislature has to properly fund legislature, but obligation pushed down to local school districts. Doesn’t foresee any measure to change this. No knowledge of credible movement to make this happen. Constitution prevents it, and I would oppose any changes.
Youngest Texans: Changing training requirements for early childhood caregivers above 15 hours No clue. No idea, either. As a parent with a child in child care, I would be happy to understand more about this.
Texas Constitution: longest and least-read document in world. Keep it, add to 480 amendments, or call for constitutional convention It’s complicated and difficult to read. This isn’t time to adjust constitution. We have $18-$21 bil budget shortfall, redistricting, and “several other” difficult issues. For now it’s working, stick to priorities. Need to look at “in time,” but next legislature has difficult issues (also mentioned Sunset w.r.t. TxDOT, TDI). Limit state budget to money we have. Only way state can take on debt is to have Constitutional amendment. Property tax cuts (for targeted groups) require amendments? (fully agree with Sheets and Vaught that there’s a lot more important things right now to worry about)
Will you ban red light cameras? Don’t think camera by Mbird/Abrams works. “Broken system”, question of due process. Not for outright ban, but “needs to be explored.” Wish he would have gone back to 2003 session and voted no. It’s a problem. Dallas-area rep is who is behind it. Cameras set up in “gotcha zones.” Cities will fight band, but need to do it. [withholding opinion as I am researching this right now for my doctorate]
Will you stay in Austin during session and not leave for another states? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Raised taxes with fees. Driver Responsibility Fee. What’s position on stealth taxes and this fee. Good example of stealth tax is garage sale fee. It’s really a tax. He will stand the line on tax increases. Haven’t studied DRF, so can’t give good comment. Would like to study. Could be a good thing if it works. But wouldn’t support stealth tax. [this was another one my questions] I want truth in taxing: fees and licenses that don’t pay for an economic service to the payer, and fines assessed far away from the crime, are really taxes. I would repeal the Driver Responsibility Fee tax.
Closing statement Thanked LWV. Honorific statements. Thanked audience. Get to know issues. 2 years ago would have no interest in running for office; just got back from Marine Corps, geographical separation. Ready to settle down. Realized he didn’t like direction country is headed. Bad Washington policy. CA, NY, IL in trouble, and those problems could spread to Texas. Some believe we should follow CA model, he disagrees. He’s limited government conservative, free market principals, security. Honorific statements. Thanks wife. 2 small children born during his term. He talks a lot about style of leadership. Type of leadership in Austin is critical. He will try to lead in “common sense, centrist manner”. Tries to be nonpartisan. Trumpeted awards from various nonpartisan groups and businesses as evidence of leadership he provides.

Seriously, that’s all Libertarians could do in Texas 107?

(MARCH 2011 UPDATE: The bigoted atheist videos have been removed from Facebook.)

(CORRECTION: The site mentioned at bottom is in fact about Brandon’s wife’s current campaign for the State Board of Education. Her Dallas Morning News profile is much better than Brandon’s but omits her affiliation with anti-religious bigots. She’s in the video linked below.)

Texas House District 107 has the typical Republican and Democrat candidates. It also has an oddball Libertarian, Brandon Parsons.

Brandon Parsons's atheist and anti-religious clubs on FacebookI am scratching my head that the Texas Libertarian Party fielded this guy.

First problem: he’s an avowed atheist. That doesn’t work in Texas. Worse, most his Facebook “likes” suggest anti-religious bigotry. His “likes” are at right (assembled from his Facebook profile). Let me explain some code words:

  • Free-thinkersfreethought, and skeptics refer to bigoted people or belief systems. Not only do they deny the possibility of God’s existence, they think believers are delusional (fast forward to 3:14 in this video of Brandon’s “pastor”–yes, some kind of atheist “church”!).
  • Center for Inquiry is a freethought group that tries to debunk religion.
  • Camp Quest is where atheists get their kids indoctrinated with secularist dogma and anti-religion.
  • Reason, at least in the context of Brandon’s Facebook “likes”, generally means toned down, professorial anti-religious bigotry.

Now look at Brandon’s flippant, ignorant, or wordy responses to the Dallas Morning News’s candidate profiles for 107: http://www.thevoterguide.org/v/dallas/race-detail.do?id=192188559

Come on, man! You didn’t answer many questions!

The ones he bothered to answer stroll past the subject. For example, on the rainy day fund, he gave this 41 word humdinger of a sentence:

I think it may be reasonable in some of the worst economic times to use a portion of the funds if they can be exceeded with long-term proposals to reduce expenses by a larger amount to avoid returning to these circumstances.

Or how about this meander through the death penalty, brought to you with a 40 word sentence:

Given recent history of releases due to wrongful convictions, the sensible action in the short-term would be a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and a thorough review of any present death-penalty inmates at minimum before re-instating it.

Huh. Bold proposal. (snicker)

This isn’t communicating. These are sleep aids!

But wait, there’s less! He’s even ideologically inconsistent with his own party.

Libertarians are very anti-government. They believe in dismantling the vast majority of today’s government.

An example: the Libertarian position on schooling is basically “separation of education and state,” that public schools shouldn’t even exist. Tell me, how much of that position is in his treatises on measuring achievement and dropouts?

No, I think the measurement system the state is using impacts that which they are measuring far too greatly to be of much use–far too much class time is devoted specifically to the existing measurement scheme. I understand the desire to measure performance, but if a measurement scheme impacts what you are measuring by more than 5%–maybe a little more if it can be demonstrated that the benefits far outweigh the costs–then it isn’t worth it. Furthermore, one has to consider what incentives are being created, and ensure that the incentives create the desired behavior. Measuring teacher and school performance isn’t an easy task, I admit, so it’s one that requires careful consideration before implementing. I think the best approach here is to take a timeout and research new or existing alternatives.

We should face the realization that a large portion of even the students who graduate do not go to college, and take steps to ensure that our education system is relevant to those students as well.

(Zzzz….)

(Zzzz…)

(snort) wha… what? Oh, I fell asleep. What did you say?

Let me summarize with two points:

First, don’t waste your vote on Brandon Parsons. He’s an atheist and possibly an anti-religious bigot, he can’t communicate as one should expect of a politician, he apparently doesn’t take voter education seriously, and he’s ideologically inconsistent with his own party. Voting for Brandon is not “making a statement”, it’s just squandering your vote. If you want to make a statement, participate in the Republican or Democrat primaries in spring 2012!

Second, the Libertarian Party doesn’t field quality candidates. The Libertarian Party is a dumping ground for disaffected um….well, I don’t know what Brandon is! But it’s apparently not where you go to find electable candidates!

Disagree? Check out his campaign site at http://www.parsonstx.com/. Oops, sorry, he hasn’t taken down his prior campaign site yet.

Why the United Methodist Church withdrew from the “One Nation” rally

A family member and I may be much of why the United Methodist Church withdrew from the Oct. 2 Democrat One Nation Rally. I am proud that, per the Weekly Standard, the UMC was “the only major group publicly to withdraw from the rally.”

On Thursday, Sept. 30, 2 days before the rally, a family member tipped me off that the United Methodist Church’s General Board on Church and Society (GBCS) endorsed the rally.

I was skeptical at first, pushing back on the relative. But later that day, I called Wayne Rhodes, the GBCS’s Director of Communications. Wayne played the “what, me?” card, sticking to a ridiculous notion that this is a nonpartisan rally. At one point he even denied that NPR repeatedly characterized this as a left wing political rally. It took many minutes to explain to him that a pig with lipstick is still a pig–even if there is some alleged factual basis for the rally’s nonpartisanship, it is a de facto Democrat rally. Therefore, the United Methodist Church’s name should not be part of it.

Wayne’s bio suggests a good deal of journalistic experience. All I can figure is he is intentionally playing fast and loose with the truth, like a political press secretary whose boss is in hot water. Not like an employee of a church.

I was so frustrated with Wayne’s obfuscation  that I send this email a few hours later. It went to the GBCS’s director Jim Winkler, CCing Wayne and also Mark W. Harrison, the GBCS employee who sought the UMC’s endorsement:

James,

I have a bone to pick with you.

I am a lifelong United Methodist, and I am embarrassed and angry that the General Board on Church and Society, which you direct, recklessly and naively lent the UMC’s name to a left wing, partisan pep rally (per http://www.onenationworkingtogether.org/partners).

Let me deconstruct this statement:

“left wing, partisan pep rally”

It doesn’t take much to read through the event’s marketing. The One Nation Working Together Rally is a national-scope, left wing, Democrat-supporting, partisan pep rally. It is a knee-jerk reaction to the recent Tea Party-aligned, Republican-supporting, conservative, Glenn Beck event.

The media clearly sees this. Here’s a couple of NPR pieces that affirm the pep rally’s partisanship: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130183605 and http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130212964 (just listen to the first 25 seconds). Google News has many other references (link), cementing this obvious purpose.

Guess what? Almost all of the pep rally’s “endorsing organizations” (http://www.onenationworkingtogether.org/partners) are left wing or Democrat groups. Some are even notorious extremists like the Communist Party. Only a small remainder are prima facie politically unaligned.

“naive”

Over the phone yesterday, GBCS communications director Wayne Rhodes argued that this is simply a nonpartisan event about social justice. He said that one of your employees sought GBCS endorsement because he claimed this pep rally is about nonpartisan principles. He passionately denied that the media portrayed this as a Democrat-aligned or even left wing event.

Um, what? Is the GBCS that naive?

Let’s suppose the impossible is true, that this is really nonpartisan? Two important facts:

  1. This pep rally is perceived, portrayed, and organized as a partisan, left wing event.
  2. Endorsing a highly partisan pep rally links one with the rally’s partisan flavor.

These facts matter a lot more than a legalistic, disingenuous appeal to the pep rally’s alleged nonpartisan roots.

“reckless”

Given that the UMC laity has diverse political views and that the denomination is bleeding members, the UMC should be wary of wedges that could alienate members.

The GBCS was reckless to create a wedge over non-church, partisan politics. Supporting a Democrat-aligned, left wing pep rally does not serve Jesus Christ or stop the UMC’s membership losses. It just feeds political machines and drives away members and prospects.

Alienated members may include those who don’t agree with left wing solutions to social ills. It may also include those, from any political stripe, who agree with the spirit of tax law that separates charities from partisan events. (Yes, I know, “on paper” this is not a “Democrat” pep rally, and the tax law has some loopholes, but let’s not get into disingenuous legalism again…)

Conclusion

By now, you may think I want the GBCS to also endorse Republican or conservative events. No, in fact, I don’t. Several of the Republican party’s official stances also counter the UMC’s social principles.

I want the GBCS to stay out of partisan events. I don’t want my own church creating wedges between me and my Christian brothers and sisters of any partisan leaning!

Further, I want the GBCS to be open to the idea that what separates the left and right are often not the goals (fairness, equality, peace, liberty, etc.). The difference is in the methods to achieve these outcomes.

I’m confused why the GBCS didn’t have checks and balances to prevent this error? It makes me question what you guys are doing up there. What other partisan political events are you endorsing? Does the General Conference need to audit the GBCS?

Aren Cambre
Dallas, TX

I also CCed my local minister and Bishop.

By this time, my relative had found emails of United Methodist friends and many Bishops and started sending similar appeals to them.

I got no response, but that was unsurprising. Wayne made it clear they were going to cling to delusional notions about the rally’s partisanship.

The day before, Oct. 1, as I was about to start some of my own email activism, I found that the GBCS rescinded their endorsement! I was relieved, but the news release infuriated me. They still clung to their dishonest claptrap. For example:

  • “The board is disturbed by some of the overtly political and partisan statements issued by organizers of the march.” Um, it was political and partisan from the beginning!? Hello!?
  • “These goals are non-controversial and consistent with scripture and the United Methodist Social Principles.” and other garbage defending the rally. Look, it was a political rally. The non-partisan roots are a farce. Quit it!
  • “the rally was initiated by respected civil rights organizations such as the NAACP …  [but] [t]he list of endorsers, however, grew to include a variety of organizations that created enormous, unnecessary controversy.” Well, yeah, aligning with the Communist Party doesn’t help things, BUT THAT’S STILL NOT THE PROBLEM! Do you really believe that a national-scope, Washington Mall rally, pimped exclusively by Democrat fronts like the NAACP or or radical left groups, could possibly be nonpartisan? Seriously?
  • “…the ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally has been portrayed by opponents as a counter-demonstration to Mr. Beck’s event.” NPR and the mainstream media are opponents of the American left? HAHAHAHA!
  • “GBCS does not support a statement reported in the Sept. 30 issue of The Washington Post made by a key organizer of the event. He said, ‘We aren’t the alternative to the tea party; we are the antidote.'” Another example of insane incompetence–is the GBCS really that blind to the unrelenting media characterization of One Nation, that started way before Sept. 30? It didn’t start the day I called Wayne!
  • “Unfortunately, discourse within the United States has grown increasingly divisive. Perhaps more troubling, discourse within The United Methodist Church has taken on a very un-Christ-like tone. E-mails and phone calls made to the board by clergy and laity have been shocking in their vitriol.” Oh, that’s wonderful, throw stones at fellow United Methodists because they called you out on your incompetence. Yeah, that’s “turning the other cheek”!
  • “The ‘One Nation Working Together’ rally began with a clean, clear message consistent with the social teachings of The United Methodist Church.” NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. This started out as a partisan political pep rally. It was NEVER intended to be some nonpartisan event. Any alleged nonpartisanship is a thin legal fiction necessary to pass through tax law.
  • “We pray that the rally will overcome the misguided controversies surrounding it and deliver hope for the change their presence does endorse.” That was the final statement. Yet another “we don’t get it” statement: the problem, from the beginning, is that the GBCS endorsed a political rally and declined to admit it.

I wrote another email to Jim, et al, also copying the two United Methodist bishops who serve as president and vice president of the GBCS’s board:

Jim,

Thank you for rescinding the GBCS’s endorsement of this partisan pep rally: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5723441&ct=8736599&notoc=1.

However, I strongly object to the retraction’s tone. I don’t appreciate that in it, you are defensive, still cling to tired legalisms, and cast stones at concerned United Methodists.

Since when is passionately disagreeing with GBCS’s error the same as “very un-Christ-like tone” or “shocking … vitriol”?

Could you help me understand how any of these are Christ-like?

  1. Your Communications Director adamantly denying that the media portrayed this event as partisan, even though he admitted he listens to the same NPR radio news as me, which repeatedly covered the pep rally’s overt partisanship?
  2. Clinging to tired legalisms, such as how the retraction repeats the alleged nonpartisan basis for this event. (The Gospels say a lot about legalism…)
  3. That your staff tarnished the UMC’s good name because they declined to perform due diligence, failing to observe the terribly obvious: a national-scope rally, set up by left wing and Democrat groups, especially in a season of intense political scrutiny of the American left, will have thick partisan overtones.
  4. That you waited until the 11th hour to withdraw, only after direct media attention of the GBCS endorsement, despite weeks of media coverage of the rally’s partisan purpose.

Again, I appreciate that you did the right thing and rescinded the endorsement. But I am disappointed that your retraction shows hostility, obstinance, and defensiveness instead of humility, acceptance, and straightforwardness. That is disappointing.

Aren Cambre
Dallas, TX

Heads should roll. The GBCS, as a body, was dishonest. It may be incompetent, too.

Furthermore, if the GBCS’s de facto purpose is to shove the United Methodist Church towards a certain partisan alignment, the entire board needs to be shut down. Our resources are too precious to waste on nonsense.

Now one last note: I am also working against excessive church influence in the right wing, too. The Texas Republican Party has adopted divisive religious views, and I’ve documented this in my critique of the Texas Republican Platform.