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Texas Parent PAC Tries to Influence Key Primary Races

By Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-500451.mp3

Dallas, TX –

Marla Crockett, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Dinah Miller says she did everything she was supposed to do:

Dinah Miller, Board member of Texas Parent PAC: I wrote letters, made phone calls to representatives and met with different politicians and even testified in the House, but the leadership at the Capitol didn't listen to us. They didn't listen to parents or the PTA, or superintendents, teachers or elected school board members.

Crockett: So, last summer, tired of watching her Richardson school district struggle with budget cuts and unfunded mandates, the Dallas mother of two became a founding member of the Texas Parent PAC. The group is small, at more than 250 members, and the amount of money it's raised--around $60,000 dollars--also seems puny, but the PAC hopes to have a disproportionate impact on the state legislature by putting some money, manpower and endorsements behind about 20 Republicans and Democrats around the state. In that group are several independent-minded incumbents, including Charlie Geren from Fort Worth:

Miller: Carter Casteel, Delwin Jones, Tommy Merritt, and then of course, Charlie Geren. And then a few others, but those are the 4 we're focusing on, because they're being punished with a primary challenger in the Republican Primary by not following the Republican leadership.

Crockett: All four have attracted opponents in the primary who are backed financially by two wealthy, pro school voucher conservatives: Dr. James Leininger of San Antonio, and Bob Perry, a builder from Houston. But the Parent PAC isn't just playing defense. Group president Carolyn Boyle led a months-long search for candidates to challenge key incumbents. A primary target is Republican Kent Grusendorf of Arlington:

Miller: The incumbent state representative receives a grade of F for his failed efforts at school finance. For five legislative sessions he has chaired the House Public Education Committee. Each time he failed to develop a fiscally responsible plan that could be passed by his own majority party.

Crockett: Dinah Miller made those remarks at an early morning coffee last week in Arlington:

Miller: And that is why I'm here today on behalf of Texas Parent PAC and hundreds of concerned moms and dads and grandparents. We are here to announce our strong endorsement of Republican Diane Patrick for state representative.

Crockett: Diane Patrick is a Clinical Associate Professor at UT-Arlington. She's also a former member of the Arlington School Board and the State Board of Education. She met with the Parent PAC before announcing her candidacy, but says she'd been considering a run for years:

Diane Patrick, Republican candidate for House Seat 94: Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you enough is enough, and that's why I decided to run for House District 94. Our schools are in a crisis, but instead of working to help families, he helped himself first by raising retirement pay that could have gone to helping schools.

State Representative Kent Grusendorf and supporter: Come on, Z man. What's happening, Mr. Grusendorf? We've got a bunch of people in there eating barbeque. Come on in.

Crockett: Several hours after the Patrick event, Kent Grusendorf hosted Governor Rick Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and more than 250 supporters at an Arlington fundraiser. Greeting guests outside the Knights of Columbus Hall, Grusendorf dismissed Patrick's campaign:

Grusendorf: Who? She's got a record and I've got a record. I've got a record as a conservative in the legislature. Since I've been there I'ved voted conservative. She's got a record when she was on the State Board of Education of voting with the liberals. There's a fundamental difference in how we view government. MC: She's been endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC and teacher organizations. KG: Organizations that normally support Democrats, absolutely, that's true. MC: Parent PAC has also endorsed about 10-12 Republicans. KG: Don't use that name Parent PAC. That's in name only. How many parents are involved in that?

Crockett: Grusendorf said his plan for schools, connecting more money to school accountability, is the right one:

Grusdendorf: Over the last two decades student enrollment has increased 40%. Total school employment increase 151%, but only one in three has been a teacher. We're going to put additional money in, but also want to make sure we get the maximum bang for the dollar for the 30 to 33 billion we're spending. We need to hold school administrators, school bureaucrats more accountable.

Crockett: Inside the hall, Speaker Craddick defended Grusendorf's record:

House Speaker Tom Craddick: We passed a bill four times in the House that he put together. It got out of conference committee and hit a filibuster in the Senate or we would have passed the thing. He's really been the leader on our side and between both bodies to put reforms together.

Crockett: Craddick denies that there's a split in his party over education. But Harvey Kronberg, Publisher and Editor of the online political newsletter, The Quorum Report, says the vote on March 7th will indicate something important--whether the liberal accusation on education can stick to a fellow Republican. He thinks Grusendorf has a tough sell on his hands:

Harvey Kronberg, Publisher and Editor of The Quorum Report: A typical primary in that district is between 2500 and 4000 voters. They're doing everything they can. They'll have plenty of money to turn out traditional voters, but between teachers and soccer moms and the network Patrick has, I would think she should be able to bring out a substantial number of voters. And I don't think the 2500 to 4000 current primary voters are all a slam dunk for Grusendorf.

Crockett: Kronberg believes the margin of victory on election night could be just a few votes. And, after following the Texas Parent PAC for months, he thinks the group has an outside chance of changing the legislature:

Kronberg: In the best of all possible worlds, they have a shot at two to four races against incumbents, maybe another four open seats, three or four. Put some successes from Texas Parent PAC in combination with angry incumbents who'll survive the Leininger-funded challenges and you've got a pretty big shift in the Texas House of Representatives. I can't tell you how many votes were decided on one or two vote margins on taxes over the course of the last three years.

Crockett: Regardless how the March primary turns out, Dinah Miller and other Parent PAC board members say there will always be issues in education, so the group is in the political process to stay. For KERA 90.1, I'm Marla Crockett.

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