The Texas capitol is a treasure trove of political and issue conflicts. Whatever it is you are passionate about or care to find some support, or opposition, it is here.
One of the fun things about spending time around the actual capitol building is the magnet it seems to provide for a great number of demonstrations, for so many different subjects that it’s hard to keep track.
Some honor fallen law enforcement officers. Some celebrate holidays or anniversaries. Some express anger. Some are efforts to rally support for a cause.
One of the more recent rallies was on Saturday (3/24) by Save Texas Schools. As the group’s name suggests, they are calling for restoration of the $5 billion plus that Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican-dominated Legislature cut from the budget for public schools.
The cut has infuriated enough parents and school personnel around the state, plus just plain citizens, that well over 1,000 of them showed up for the rally to voice their concerns. Among those speaking were state Sen. Kirk Watson and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, both Democrats from Austin.
You don’t have to explain to the school professionals, or to Watson and Doggett, the impact the short-sighted legislative budgetary approach has on the schools, in terms of cuts in spending on libraries, extracurricular events, special instruction, smaller classroom size, and so on. They know.
What these demonstrators are trying to do is to help raise the broader public consciousness to those facts, and the negative contribution those “savings” make to dropouts, welfare, crime, gangs, drugs, prison, and other things that are results of failure to provide enough financial support for adequate education.
What Save Texas Schools hopes to accomplish by taking the time and trouble to get people out on a nice Saturday to show up at the capitol is to try to get the attention of the state’s leaders, give their supporters some sense that they’re doing things, get some publicity, possibly attract financial support, and let the elected officials like Watson and Doggett know that their efforts on behalf of a good education for all Texas children are not going unnoticed.
It’s one thing to be for adequate public education spending. It’s another thing to get out there and clap and cheer for the idea of spending more money and raising your own taxes to make it happen, because you understand its long-term value.
It’s one thing to say that it’s important to invest in educating all of our children – regardless of race, creed or color – and another to step up and say “tax me” to help pay for it. And it’s yet another to indicate that you’re savvy enough to know that gathering in front of the capitol is a fleeting thing.
With the exception of the air cover the free media coverage provides for your purpose, and the adrenalin rush you feel from being in the crowd, and the boost that your elected officials feel from your enthusiastic applause, what is there?
That’s where it gets down to the true nitty-gritty. Capitol demonstrations by themselves are a dime a dozen in terms of long-term impact, unless they happen to have a crowd, say, the size of the 100,000 who attend Texas Longhorn football games.
To have lasting impact takes hard, hard work at the grassroots level.
A wise lobbyist once observed, “Ninety percent of everything these legislators do down here in Austin is aimed at coming back.”
And another lobbyist pointed out that it’s a nice gesture to testify at legislative committee hearings, and not unimportant, but “these folks (legislators) listen best to people who can vote for them.” Or against them. In other words, if you’re going to try to change things, capitol rallies are a nice show. But it’s the grassroots, in-the-district contact with the legislator, and going door-to-door to turn out support for or against candidates for office, that makes the ultimate difference.
Lobby groups understand this. That’s why the auto dealers, realtors, trial lawyers, restaurateurs, beer distributors and others with members spread around the state have strong grassroots organizations.
And that’s why they’re powerful in making things happen – or not happen – in the capitol.
If the education folks want to achieve success, they’ve got the same challenge.
It appears that some who are involved understand that. Carolyn Boyle, who heads the Texas Parent PAC, has had her group not just supporting candidates, but actively recruiting ones to run in the May 29 Democratic and Republican primary elections who understand education issues, and who can face incumbents head on, be they Democrat or Republican.
The rally was just a partial showcase of their overall effort. The other hard work continues.
DAVE McNEELY is political columnist. You may contact him at email@example.com or (c edd512)458-2963.