Trump friendly to gays and that’s bad news for Cruz

Ted Cruz

Donald Trump Hosts Nevada Caucus Night Watch Party In Las VegasA story in this week’s American-Statesman has given me hope that the Republican Party will move to the left on gay marriage and LGBT rights – if not voluntarily because it’s the right thing to do, then by necessity to prevent alienating new voters Donald Trump is bringing to the GOP. Those voters care less about social issues and more about jobs.

The story is bad news for Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, who like Trump, is seeking the Republican presidential nomination along with John Kasich, governor of Ohio. The latter pair have no pathway to win the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. With 992 delegates Trump does. But he could lose if the nomination goes to a late ballot at a contested convention. Those circumstances boost Cruz’s chance to win.

But on gay rights, Cruz, who fervently opposes gay marriage, is being upstaged by Trump. By contrast, Trump has strategically positioned himself in support of gay rights. That is made clear in The Times story in which writer Maggie Haberman details Trump’s long support of gay rights issues.

Haberman wrote: “In 2000, when Trump briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ‘include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.’ “

The interview quoted Trump as saying: “It would be simple. It would be straightforward,” adding, “It’s only fair.”

Recently, speaking on NBC’s Today Show, Trump said instead of trying to legislate which bathrooms LGBT people should use, North Carolina should “”leave it the way it is.”

“People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble.”

He later clarified that to say it should be up to states to determine such things.

Trump’s direct and implied support of gay rights has created a strong expectation for change in the GOP. That momentum is multiplied by pressure coming from big corporations, including Disney, which have blocked the enactment of legislation in Georgia and some other states for so-called religious liberty laws, which allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT people.

In Texas, the group, Texas Competes, has organized to fight such discriminatory efforts at the Legislature, now controlled by right-wing GOP conservatives, who have made no secret of their opposition to gay marriage and legislation that would permit state agencies and public universities to offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees.

Such benefits, offered by the city of Austin, the Austin school district and many private companies, provide health coverage and other benefits to an employee’s same-sex or opposite-sex partner. During his tenure, University of Texas President Bill Powers, made clear that the state’s flagship university was at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining talent because of the Legislature’s failure to pass such a bill.

Thankfully, UT began offering benefits to same-sex spouses after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 upheld gay marriage as a constitutional right – even in Texas that had banned it — though UT still is legally unable to offer domestic partnership benefits to its employees.

Texas Competes makes a similarly solid case for creating a business climate in the state that welcomes LGBT people and counts over 700 corporations and organizations as members, including Google, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Marriott, Hilton, Whole Foods and Samsung.

That case is stated on its website: “Businesses have long recognized the power of fair treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers and their families. The positive impacts on company culture, and on the bottom line, are well documented. And those impacts go beyond gay and transgender employees: inclusive policies and culture are important to the vast majority of the population as a whole.”

Trump, a billionaire businessman, recognized the benefit of equal treatment years ago, according to Haberman, who wrote: “He donated to charities focused on the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early ’90s. In 2000, when he briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ‘include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.’ “

Haberman also reported that Trump is believed to be the first private club owner in Palm Beach, Florida, to admit an openly gay couple to his club, Mar-a-Lago.

By contrast, Cruz is clinging to a religious conservative view that defines marriage as a sacrament between one man and one woman. But given the shifting ground in the GOP on gay rights and Trump’s influence in such matters, one has to wonder how long before the conservative views of Cruz and other like-minded Republicans will be overtaken by more moderate and welcoming views on gay rights.

 

In memo police chief Acevedo disputes insubordination charge

Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo addresses the media, along with City Manager Marc Ott, right, at the scene of a shooting at the Walmart near IH35 and Parmer Lane in the early morning hours of Friday, April 6, 2012. An APD officer was shot and killed inside the Walmart after responding to call concerning an intoxicated person.
Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo addresses the media, along with City Manager Marc Ott, right, at the scene of a shooting at the Walmart near IH35 and Parmer Lane in the early morning hours of Friday, April 6, 2012. An APD officer was shot and killed inside the Walmart after responding to call concerning an intoxicated person.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has come under fire for insubordination to his boss, City Manager Marc Ott, as the American-Statesman’s Tony Plohetski reported on Tuesday.

But new questions are raised by documents provided to the editorial board about whether Acevedo intentionally disregarded Ott’s order to stop discussing the controversial police shooting of an unarmed teenager in February — or instead acted with knowledge, and at least tacit approval, of a supervisor. Acevedo’s response cites a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications involving Ott and his assistant city manager, Rey Arellano, as reasons that led to the insubordination charge.

Plohetski broke the news that Acevedo — perhaps the most visible and popular figure in city government — had been reprimanded for insubordination. The story details the blow-up between Acevedo and Ott that ended with Ott docking Acevedo’s pay about $4,000, or five days, and a warning that Acevedo could be fired for future misconduct.

Those details came to light in documents provided to Plohetski for the Statesman and KVUE-TV. In them, Ott contends that Acevedo didn’t follow orders to stop discussing the controversial police shooting in February of 17-year-old David Joseph, who was unarmed and naked when he was shot. Following an investigation, officer Geoffrey Freeman was fired for violating Austin Police Department policy. The reprimand and warning about future actions are detailed in an April 15 memo.

The documents provided to the editorial board on Wednesday detail Acevedo’s  response on April 19, answering Ott’s insubordination charge, and providing a timeline of events. It sheds more light on the ongoing saga. And as we noted, raises questions about whether Acevedo’s behavior was a blatant disregard of an order from his boss or a legitimate action to address problems at APD’s embattled police cadet academy.

Below is that response:

Kissinger on Vietnam: A few mistakes, saddest moments, no regrets

Kissinger
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger speaks Tuesday night during the LBJ Presidential Library’s Vietnam War Summit.

“Why don’t you get out of Vietnam?”                                                           “Because a sudden withdrawal might give us a credibility problem.”        “Where?”                                                                                                                                                                         — French President Charles de Gaulle to Henry Kissinger, March 1969

Henry Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and later his secretary of state. The peace deal Kissinger negotiated with North Vietnam in January 1973 lasted long enough for the Nixon administration to finish withdrawing U.S. combat troops from South Vietnam and cynically claim it had achieved “peace with honor.” Kissinger won the Nobel Prize for his efforts — which famously prompted humorist Tom Lehrer to quip, “Political satire became obsolete when they awarded Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize.” Two years later, South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam.

Kissinger, 92, was at the LBJ Presidential Library Tuesday night for a conversation with Mark Updegrove, the library’s director, as part of the library’s Vietnam War Summit, which ends Thursday. Kissinger described the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 and the evacuation of Saigon as “one of the saddest moments of my life.” He talked about President Lyndon Johnson’s anguish at failing to achieve peace in Vietnam — Kissinger, a Harvard professor at the time, had advised Johnson — and he noted what he thought were some lessons learned from the war. (One of them: Don’t go to war unless you can describe an aim you can sustain.)

Just as Johnson inherited American commitments to South Vietnam from his predecessors, and then tragically escalated America’s military presence there in the mid-1960s, Nixon inherited Johnson’s escalation in 1969 and tragically expanded it to Cambodia and Laos. Though Nixon began a gradual withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam soon after taking office, he and Kissinger were determined to prosecute a lost war without losing American “credibility.”

They implemented a strategy known as “Vietnamization”: Slowly remove U.S. forces from South Vietnam, train and equip South Vietnamese troops to take their place, and bomb the hell out of the enemy in the meantime. More than 21,000 Americans and perhaps as many as 1.5 million Vietnamese would die while Nixon and Kissinger kept up appearances for allies and enemies, as David Milne wrote in his 2015 book, “Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy.”

Tuesday night at the LBJ Library, Kissinger admitted “tactical” mistakes were made but said he had no regrets about Vietnam. Asked by Updegrove how he thought history would judge him, Kissinger shrugged and said his extensive record was in the hand of others to judge and that history’s judgment wasn’t an obsession for him. “I tried to do the best I could, and that’s all I can say,” he said.

Myopia and hubris mark America’s involvement in Vietnam. History’s judgment probably won’t rest on whether Kissinger tried the best he could. It likely will rest on whether he ever acknowledged that what he thought was right might have been terribly wrong. Tuesday, he gave no indication he will ever consider such a thing.

Alexander Hamilton, the $10 founding father, and our unlisted rights

ALEXANDER+HAMILTON
A monochrome copy of a painting of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull. (New York Public Library)

I was an Alexander Hamilton man well before hip hop discovered the founding father and turned him into a pop cultural, Broadway phenomenon and, as of this week, the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama. So count me among those who were relieved by the news that Hamilton’s staying on the $10 bill.

Though he’ll eventually have company. The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it would add Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul and Sojourner Truth to the $10 bill’s flip side as part of a redesign due in 2020. The same approach would apply to a redesigned $5 bill: Abraham Lincoln stays on the front, with Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. added to the back.

The big news, of course, was the decision to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 note with Harriet Tubman. Not so many decades ago, Jackson was seen as the champion of the common man and democracy. Today, Jackson is rightly reviled for his Indian removal policy — a policy that was put into force by Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren, under whom the “Trail of Tears” was marched. (A Texas side note: David Crockett, then a member of Congress from Tennessee, was a harsh critic of the Indian Removal Bill signed by Jackson. His split with Jackson over the issue would play a role in his eventual presence at the Alamo.)

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Harriet Tubman, in a photo taken between 1860 and 1875. (H.B. Lindsley / Library of Congress via AP)

As has been widely noted, adding Harriet Tubman to the $20 bill helps expand our view of who we are as a nation. Tubman is famous for leading hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, but among the many other things I’m guessing most of us didn’t know about Tubman until this week: She also served with the U.S. Army during the Civil War as a scout and a spy and was buried with military honors in Auburn, N.Y., when she died in 1913.

Back to Hamilton:

Yes, yes, I know he was a philandering jerk and a friend of the 1 percent of his time — and, yes, his idiotic decision to fight a duel with Aaron Burr left him, well, a dead idiot. But Hamilton’s “immigrant comin’ up from the bottom” story is as classic a biography of a self-made American as Benjamin Franklin’s and his role in creating the Constitution and the formation of the early federal government and American economy was profound. And unlike many other founders — looking at you, Thomas Jefferson — Hamilton actually fought in the Revolutionary War.

Where I find Hamilton most interesting and challenging is in the Federalist Papers, that series of 85 essays he, James Madison and John Jay wrote in 1787-88 to explain the Constitution and argue for its ratification. (Hamilton contributed about two-thirds of the essays; most of the rest were written by Madison.) Part of the ratification debate was a debate about a bill of rights, which the Constitution lacked, and which its opponents insisted it must have. Hamilton, in the 84th of the Federalist Papers, argues against a bill of rights. Because the Constitution is “founded upon the power of the people,” he writes, there aren’t any rights for the people to reserve for themselves that they don’t already possess. Hamilton thought a bill of rights not only unnecessary but also potentially dangerous because listing what the government could not do gave it a reasonable pretext to claim any power not listed for itself. Similarly, specifying certain individual rights diminished or negated other individual rights not specified.

Which is why we have the Ninth Amendment, added by Madison as a concession to Hamilton’s argument. The Ninth Amendment tells us the Bill of Rights is an incomplete list of rights — that many other rights also exist — and the rights enumerated in the Constitution are not meant “to deny or disparage” the other rights we possess.

What are those other rights? Well, that’s the question. Unfortunately, the courts historically have left the Ninth Amendment to lie “inertly in the Constitution, a joker that has never been played,” as Stanford University historian Jack Rakove once wrote. To begin to change that, and in honor of Hamilton’s newly secure presence on the $10 bill, and in honor of the other Americans who fought to expand our rights who are now destined to appear on our redesigned paper currency, I hereby announce the informal formation of the Ninth Amendment Promotion Society, or NAPS.

OK, we’ll work on the name. Meantime, there’s a whole mess of rights out there waiting to be discovered. Let’s go find ’em.

After Reggae Fest rainout, Capital Area Food Bank needs your help

lhs Sustainable food bank 07
Last year the Capital Area Food Bank provided 28 million meals. According to president and CEO Hank Perret, the growth in the food insecure population is two times the general population growth in Austin. LAURA SKELDING / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

How much did you spend on your lunch today?

I spent $11. That $11 could have provided 44 meals for Austin families through the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

Why the guilt trip? For the second year in a row The Capital Area Food Bank has had to cancel the last day of Reggae Fest, the non-profit’s biggest fundraiser. Heavy weekend  rains forced the cancellation leaving the organization about $100,000 short, which officials say is the equivalent to about 400,000 meals for the area’s families. So, now food bank officials are asking Central Texans to help to fill the gap.

Food insecurity is an unfortunate fact of life in Central Texas. More than 477, 000 Central Texans 21-county area served by the food bank could not afford adequate food at all times in 2015, according to Map the Meal Gap, a study on food insecurity conducted by Feeding America.

According to the study, in Travis County the rate of food insecurity is 17.6 percent, and in some of the further flung counties like Bell, Lee, Milam and McLennan, that rate is closer to 20 percent.

In Austin, we like to talk about our food scene almost as much as we like talking about our music scene. We have a bounty of choices: Farm-to-table, fusion, sushi, Mexican, Thai and Ethiopian. We can have our meals delivered to our homes and offices in less than five minutes. We have the choice to add a dessert, a high-protein smoothie or a craft cocktail.

The Capital Area Food Bank serves 46,000 people a week, according to spokesman Dave Shaw. So if you break the numbers down another way, that is nearly four weeks of meals. That’s a long time to be hungry.

We’ve written before that most of the people helped by the food bank are not homeless and most of the families have at least one working adult. These are people earning minimum wage or on fixed incomes whose monthly budgets are overwhelmed by the cost of housing, childcare, medical bills, transportation and utilities. Their reality is one of skipping meals and empty cupboards.

So, give to the food bank. They’ve got a lot of ground to make up. Just think, if you give $25, that’s 100 men, women and children who will not go to bed hungry. That’s two lunches and a coffee. It’s not quite the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but it is awfully close.

Support by Texas county judges for DAPA, DACA should be echoed

USE THIS PHOTO AS LEDE ON A1 WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 18: Pro-immigration protesters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, March 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Next month the high court will hear arguments in U.S. v Texas, a case that will decide whether to grant deferred action status to certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since 2010 and have children who are American citizens. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Pro-immigration protesters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, March 18, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Monday, as President Barack Obama approaches the end of his second term, Supreme Court justices heard another round of  United States v. Texas, a case that began after Obama issued executive orders in 2014 that would allow millions of undocumented workers to avoid deportation.

The president’s efforts would provide a modicum of immigration reform by protecting from deportation as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants.  Local government and business leaders across the country support the questioned immigration programs — Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which targets the nearly 4.3 million undocumented parents of citizens and lawful residents, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an initiative aimed at non-citizens who came to the country as children. Among those who back the programs are county judges from Austin, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio, who recently released a joint statement of support.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court isn’t where this matter will and should be settled.

Immigration policy is the responsibility of  Congress, even if it refuses to accept that responsibility. Then, there’s the matter, as was pointed out by the Editorial Board earlier this week, of a court ruling acting only as a temporary band-aid.

“A decision in June would arrive a few weeks before Republicans and Democrats hold their nominating conventions in mid- and late July. A 4-4 tie — a possibility after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February — would let stand the lower court rulings and would block Obama’s programs from taking effect.

Even a favorable ruling may not matter much, not with Obama’s time in office winding down. His policy will live or die with the next president.”

It’s an absolute shame. While our nation’s leaders squabble over legal and technical points, millions of families who have made this country home will continue to be threatened of being separated by deportation.

The ideal scenario would be to have the Obama Administration work with Congress for progressive reform that benefits the millions of immigrants who are already positively contributing to this country. That, unfortunately, is not likely to happen anytime soon.

What’s needed is aside from political courage from Congress is unwavering support and pressure from leaders across the country; much like the support several county judges expressed in a joint statement earlier this week.

The following is the statement:

Austin, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio Say “Yes” to DAPA and DACA

As the County Judges of Bexar, Dallas, El Paso and Travis Counties, we represent 6.5 million Texans.  The County Judge is the highest elected county official in Texas, and we are responsible for the health, public safety, economic development, and vitality of our respective counties.  We speak with one voice when we all say that the President’s immigration executive action,Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will benefit our counties’ public safety, economic growth, and humanitarian interests.   A court order has so far blocked DAPA and DACA from being implemented, but on Monday, April 18, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the case.

DAPA would provide the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents with a temporary respite from deportation and permission to work.  Expanded DACA would allow immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to also live and work temporarily in the U.S.  These policies would allow long-term, law-abiding residents to step out of the shadows, live their lives, and contribute to their communities without fear of being separated from their U.S. citizen family members.

Our counties prosper when immigrant residents are integrated into urban life.  Studies estimate that state and local revenues in Texas would increase by $59 million per year with DAPA and expanded DACA. Other research estimates that family income would see a 10% raise when one parent receives DAPA.  Our experience demonstrates that community safety is enhanced when residents are not afraid to seek help from police. DAPA and DACA would empower our residents to cooperate with law enforcement.  DAPA and DACA would also promote stable families and prevent the social, economic, and psychological harm U.S. citizen children face when their parents are deported.

Of course these programs are controversial, but we believe it’s in the best interest of our communities for DAPA and expanded DACA to be implemented until Congress chooses to act.  We hope the Supreme Court will weigh these concerns carefully as it analyzes the President’s immigration action.

Judge Nelson Wolff, Bexar County
Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County
Judge Veronica Escobar, El Paso County
Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County

 

Austin Neighborhoods Council says “no” on Proposition 1

Drivers for taxi companies raise their hands after an Austin City Council member asked who had done a fingerprint background check during discussion about ride sharing services Uber and Lyft on Thursday, October 15, 2015. The Austin City Council, after a two-hour discussion about the efficacy of various types of background checks, overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday night to develop requirements for fingerprint-based criminal background checks for drivers with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. Proposition 1 on the May 7 ballot would repeal fingerprint checks for Uber and Lyft drivers. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Drivers for taxi companies raise their hands after an Austin City Council member asked who had done a fingerprint background check during discussion about ride sharing services Uber and Lyft on Thursday, October 15, 2015. The Austin City Council, after a two-hour discussion about the efficacy of various types of background checks, overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday night to develop requirements for fingerprint-based criminal background checks for drivers with ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. Proposition 1 on the May 7 ballot would repeal fingerprint checks for Uber and Lyft drivers. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Austin Neighborhoods Council has weighed in on the Uber- and Lyft-backed Proposition 1 that goes before Austin voters on May 7. The neighborhood group is urging Austinites to vote “no” on the proposed ordinance.

The ballot can be confusing. But in simple terms voters are being asked to replace the city’s current ordinance that requires Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks with an ordinance (Proposition 1) written by the ride-sharing companies.

Among other things, the Uber and Lyft Prop 1 would eliminate fingerprint checks, drop requirements for so-called trade dress (emblems, such as Lyft’s pink mustaches that identify its vehicles/drivers) and repeal requirements that stop Lyft and Uber drivers from loading and unloading passengers in travel lanes. The ordinance also would allow Uber and Lyft to set fees they pay to the city.

As I’ve mentioned, the larger issues is whether it is the ride-hailing companies or the city that gets to write the rules of engagement for how corporations operate in the city. A vote for Proposition 1, or yes-vote, hands that authority to Uber and Lyft.

Below is the content of the resolution passed by the Austin Neighborhoods Association:

RESOLUTION ON PROPOSITION 1 REGARDING TRANSPORTATION NETWORK COMPANIES
WHEREAS, the Austin City Council was duly elected through a democratic process by
voters in Austin, and,
WHEREAS, the City Council enacted reasonable public safety and other regulations for
transportation companies operating in the City, and,
WHEREAS, corporate power and money is being utilized in an attempt to repeal public
safety regulations that were enacted by the City Council through a fair and transparent
public stakeholder process, and,
WHEREAS, public safety is a high priority for families that live in Austin
neighborhoods, and,
WHEREAS, corporations should not dictate local regulations in Austin, NOW;
THEREFORE,
BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) Executive
Committee hereby urges voters in Austin to vote against Proposition 1 on May 7, 2016.
Presented to the ANC Executive Committee: April 13, 2016
Approved and Adopted: April 13, 2016

 

 

Wheeler’s Grove Elementary: Restoring an Austin past purposely erased

Juneteenth Wheeler's Grove
A Juneteenth celebration in Wheeler’s Grove (today Eastwoods Park) in 1900.

Nancy Mims is a talented artist, photographer and fabric designer who also happens to be a former neighbor of mine who now lives in Hyde Park. With that disclosure out of the way, the reason I’m writing about Nancy is she had a role in persuading the Austin school board to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School last month. Friday afternoon, she reminded her Facebook friends that the school district’s deadline for nominating a new name for the school was rapidly approaching. She then shared the name she was nominating.

There are strong cases to be made for renaming Lee Elementary after Elisabet Ney, the sculptor who built her studio in Austin in the 1890s and whose statues of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin stand in the Texas Capitol, and for famed Depression-era photographer and University of Texas professor Russell Lee (which would allow the district to keep the Lee Elementary name), but Nancy made a compelling case for her suggestion. So I asked her if I could share her Facebook post with our Viewpoints readers; she agreed. Here it is:

I’m nominating Wheeler’s Grove, the former name of Eastwoods Park, the lush, green, tree-filled City of Austin park just a few blocks southwest of the school.

From the late 1860s through the 1910s, Wheeler’s Grove was the first public space in Austin where the city’s African-American community gathered for Emancipation Day, known in Texas as Juneteenth. Citizens from nearby freedom colonies* Wheatville and Horst’s Pasture (both in what is now the greater UT area) began the celebrations. According to news articles from the time, eventually hundreds and even thousands of people celebrated Juneteenth each year with great fanfare: festivities included the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, pageants, parades, contests, music, and speeches from local politicians and church leaders. According to records, it was the only large public space where Austin’s African-American community held Juneteenth for many years and it was also host to the African-American community’s meeting place for Fourth of July celebrations (as they were not welcome to join the “official” whites-only celebrations).

As Jim Crow laws restricted freedoms, cruel intimidation tactics (eliminating utilities, using black-owned properties for dumping city garbage) harshly rendered private properties unlivable, and the fully segregated 1928 City Plan map drew a line through the city, African American access to Wheeler’s Grove was ultimately prohibited. The land — in what had been declared by city plan and by deed a whites-only neighborhood — was developed by the city’s parks department starting in 1929, with the addition of new amenities like tennis courts, for whites only. From then on, a major part of African American history in this city was virtually erased, for only the beautiful old trees that remain in the park to stand as witness.

The people who celebrated and built community in their once-sacred space deserve to be recognized, remembered, honored and celebrated. Those of us fortunate to live in this area now have a responsibility to recognize and remember those who came before us, and we need to continue finding ways to bring justice to those who were unfairly banished from the spaces we continue to inhabit and enjoy. Bringing back the name Wheeler’s Grove as the school name would be a small but important gesture toward reconnecting and honoring a forgotten past in this community. And in doing so, we’d share responsibility for recognizing and restoring histories that had been purposely erased in a larger system of sustaining discrimination. Black ownership and history — marginalized or completely erased in this part of the city — should be recognized as part of a greater mission of closing the gap between black and white memory, with the ultimate goal of reaching true equality and equity.

What’s next, now that the nomination period has ended? As I understand the renaming plan, Austin school district officials are vetting the nominations (“to eliminate the Schooly McSchoolfaces,” as Nancy put it) before sending the list to Lee’s campus advisory committee, which will vet the school district’s vetted list. After gathering some community input, the advisory committee and district will narrow the list to three finalists and present them to the school board on May 23. It’s a process.

We continue to hear the charge that the school district engaged in a Soviet-style scrubbing of history by voting to rename Lee Elementary. As Nancy’s post reminds us, the history that was scrubbed was the history of Wheeler’s Grove, which is why it’s a perfect nomination for renaming Lee Elementary. And as I wrote in a previous blog entry, changing the name of Lee Elementary doesn’t change anything other than the name of a school. The history of the Civil War remains. It easily can be found myriad elsewheres.

Meanwhile, the art deco typography that spells out “Robert E. Lee” above the school’s entrance should be preserved. The same style lettering should be used for the school’s new name to keep it compatible with the building’s original design.

Once Lee Elementary is renamed, a plaque is in order not only to commemorate the school’s New Deal origins — something a current plaque already does — but to note how the school’s original name was part of the decades-long effort throughout the South to revise the Civil War’s history into a Lost Cause myth, and how in 2016 the community no longer wanted to honor a man central to that myth. If Wheeler’s Grove becomes the school’s new name, perhaps the plaque also will say that the community chose instead to restore a past that myth helped displace.

__________________

* Check out “Freedom Colonies: Independent Black Texans in the Time of Jim Crow,” by Thad Sitton and James H. Conrad (UT Press, 2005), for a history of “freedmen’s settlements” in Texas.

Courts should back disabled children of Texas, restore funding

Occupational therapist Amanda Halbert works with Brianna Dupuie, teaching Brianna how to get through her morning routine, like making toast with peanut butter. When Brianna was a year old, a babysitter shook her so hard she had a stroke. The stroke resulted in Cerebral Palsy, and she has had to re-learn how to walk, talk and do basic daily chores. Medicaid has helped pay for the weekly physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions because she was a foster child. But cuts to Medicaid could cause an access to care issue that would affect Brianna and 60,000 other Texas children with disabilities, impacting their progress. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Occupational therapist Amanda Halbert works with Brianna Dupuie, teaching Brianna how to get through her morning routine, like making toast with peanut butter. Medicaid has helped pay for Briana’s weekly physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions because she was a foster child. LAURA SKELDING/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

What a mess. That’s what you get when Texas lawmakers call for millions in cuts, as they did in 2015,  to therapy services for disabled children. Now, the courts are left trying to sort out the muddle.

Last session, Texas lawmakers approved a two-year budget that ordered a roughly 25 percent cut to the amount of money some pediatric therapists were paid by Medicaid. The cuts equal $150 million in state funds and $200 million in matching federal funds. Answering to the legislature call, Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials targeted the funding cuts around physical, occupational and speech therapies that affect an estimated 60,000 disabled children, including foster children. With any luck, the courts will find that funding should be restored and see that the commission’s decision to cut these particular funds is short-sighted.

Yes, short-sighted. The services targeted are long-term therapies that help children with limited abilities become more independent and self-sufficient to the best of their abilities. Studies show that greatest results are achieved when therapies begin at a very young age and continue into adulthood, if necessary. To cut or limit those therapies and services dramatically decreases the chances of these children to grow and be productive citizens.

Understandably, a group of in-home therapy providers and families of children with disabilities immediately sued the state in August to prevent the payment cuts from taking effect. Advocates and families argue that payments to providers for Medicaid patients would drop by as much as 28 percent. Such a steep reduction in payment would force some providers out of business and leave many children without much-needed therapies. It should be noted that these arguments were countered last week by a lawyer for one healthcare insurer who said in court that rate reductions could be carried out without a reduction in services.

Still, there has to be a better solution than to take aim at services that benefit the most vulnerable Texans: Children with severe disabilities with no money to pay for the services they need. Yet, the commission refuses to see it that way, even when many have said that state’s proposed cuts are based on faulty information.

The Legislature based the cuts on single independent study from Texas A&M Health Science Center researchers — parts of which state District Judge Tim Sulak, in signing a temporary injunction to the cuts in September, said were “seriously flawed.” Like I said: It’s a mess.

Yet, on Wednesday, during oral arguments in the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals, the attorney for the state’s health commission, Kristofer Monson, said the appropriations bill passed by the Legislature in 2015 mandated the cuts and left the commission with no choice but to carry them out. “The commission followed the rules,” Monson has said.

Numerous letters and comments made by at least 60 legislators, show that the lawmakers don’t agree with Monson.

In fact, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Flower Mound Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson, the chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, told Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Traylor he had “the flexibility to strive for achieving $100 million in savings in Medicaid therapy services while preserving access to services.” The key here is access to care.

No one argues that identifying corruption and pockets of waste is a bad idea — that, after all, was the initial intent for the legislative bill. Looking for ways to make the best of taxpayer money should be a priority.  However, what we are dealing with here is not comparable to unnecessary dental services for a healthy kid, but  limiting the life-altering therapies of a disabled child. Hopefully, the courts will see on April 25 that the commission was short-sighted in their call for these particular cuts and restore funding for Texas disabled children.

 

 

Questions about Dawnna Dukes’ staff warrant investigation

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Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, wears a neck brace as she reaches over to place a vote on the House floor of the State Capitol on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Rep. Dukes was in a car accident two years ago and was absent most of the 2015 session because of her injuries. (Rodolfo Gonzalez / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Questions about Texas Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ use of her staff are not going away anytime soon. Fortunately for Dukes, the latest news that Travis County prosecutors have opened an investigation comes after the Democratic primary.

The 11-term Austin Democrat has taken heat in recent months for directing state employees to raise money for an East Austin nonprofit event, the African-American Community Heritage Festival, and for having staff members do personal errands and chores for her.

Dukes does not dispute that her staff worked on the festival and maintains that she never violated state law. She is correct that constituent relations is a fairly broad category of work. State legislators march in parades, throw their considerable weight behind local causes and devote staff resources to help in that effort. She told Statesman reporter Sean Collins Walsh:

“There is nothing in the statute that prohibits a legislator or an elected official from doing any work that benefits their constituency or organizations … that serve their constituencies,” Dukes said of the 17-year-old Heritage Festival, which raises scholarship money for Huston-Tillotson University students.

However, the other accusations are concerning, especially the requirement that staffers care for Dukes’ daughter. If not a true legal case of improper use of staff for non-governmental  duties, it certainly signals poor judgement.

The fact that Dukes says that she provided room and board in exchange for the work does not matter. Serving as an after-school nanny is a bit different than fetching the occasional cup of coffee and picking up the dry cleaning. It’s an arrangement that tips the balance of power too far in the employer’s direction, especially for a public employee. The arrangement makes it impossible to separate which duties are for the taxpayers and which work is personal.

I’m certainly sympathetic to the struggles of a working mother, but mixing personal and professional as Dukes has is unwise. We’ll leave to prosecutors and investigators to determine if it is illegal.

The reports on the subject by the Statesman and the Texas Tribune pile on top of concerns raised last session over Dukes’ frequent absenteeism for missed votes. She has explained that she was still recovering from a 2013 car accident.

Dukes was unopposed in the March Democratic primary.  She does face Republican Gabriel Nila in November, however her district is solidly blue and at this moment an upset seems unlikely, especially with the Travis County Republican Party still trying to sort out how to deal with its new Party Chairman Robert Morrow. Things could change if the investigation goes badly for Dukes.