And the winner is a Republican.
And not Tom DeLay, or Tom Craddick, or Governor MoFo or either of the two idiots in the US Senate.
We passed over Texans who made big news in a good way, such as Ronnie Earle and Bill White. We even skipped the Kinkster (my humble O is that he hasn't made any news yet).
Rep. Carter Casteel of New Braunfels is the recipient of the first annual Texan of the Year.
Now to be clear, Casteel was about my seventh out of a list of nine. I actually never heard the name until we ran this contest. And you may be saying the same thing to yourself at this moment. So by way of introduction, here's a bit from the press release:
Casteel was selected, in part, for her outstanding courage and hard work during the legislative session to support public education. Representative Casteel, a Republican, was overwhelmingly selected by a group of ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ bloggers in Texas for her ability to break ranks with Republican leadership that was widely seen to ignore the pressing issue of school finance. “We believe, as a group, that Representative Casteel embodies the spirit of statesmanship and reminds all of us what a true leader does to stand up for Texas. We’re pleased and encouraged by her ability to work with leadership from both sides of the aisle for the common good,” says Charlie from Pinkdome.com.
Rep. Casteel answered a few questions posed by us, also:
Do you expect a challenger in the primary (from either party)?
I always run a campaign like I’ve got a challenger. I’ve not heard of one so far.
What do you think of your party's attempts at targeting those that voted for the Hochberg amendment?
I don’t think they are being targeted by the leadership.
What do you think of the '65% rule'?
That’s fine. That’s an admirable goal. Depending on how you count it. But here’s the question: what is the classroom? Are you talking about the teacher, the aide, the nurse, the librarian, the counselor? You have to include some of the support for the teacher so the kid is in the classroom in the first place.
How does one balance voting one's district, one's party, and one's personal feelings when those three points are not all in line on a single issue?
I’ve got a brain and a background so I know that’s important to use. I’m also in a district I’ve lived in for thirty-something years. I have a fair understanding of my district, but it is critical that I communicate with my district. It is a struggle because you are going to vote your district and your conscience and every two years you have to answer to them. I’m comfortable with my party platform.
What concerns me is how public education became a liberal issue! That’s a conservative value.
I balance all those things and make my decision. It can offend people, but I can stand by my decisions. Don’t forget, I listen to the debate.
What do you think of the recent (Texas) Supreme Court ruling (on the funding of Texas public education)?
I think adequacy is still on the table and will come up in the next special session.
What would you like to see the Lege do with school finance reform?
Competitive teacher pay and health care benefits. I don’t think it’s fair to ask our teachers to help shape the future of Texas and not compensate them in a fair way.
What do you think will actually happen with school finance reform?
I think everything is on the table. I’ve met with John Sharp and I believe we are all eager to see solutions that are fair from district to district. I think there is a growth and interest among the people of Texas that are paying attention and I think that is a good thing. People are concerned
about our lack of progress and stepping up to the plate to get in front of the right people.
What do you think about educators lobbying the Legislature?
How in the world can they communicate with the legislature without coming up there and talk to (us). If you want to call it lobbying, fine. But people go on their own time and write letters. People have made the same complaints against everybody that comes up to the legislature.
That being said, I’d rather see my tax dollars being used to educate children. If that’s not happening, then I want my tax dollars to communicate with the legislature on behalf of what’s not happening. I don’t know what the rule is, but we’ll see if a rule is going to be proposed. How is it being done? Can we invite the education community to the legislature in a different way? They’ve been shut out so maybe a lobbyist is the only way to get in the door.
Jack over at The People's Republic of Seabrook appears to have weighed in first with the news, followed closely by the Pink Lady.
Thanks for sponsoring the contest goes to PinkDome.
Update (today): An excerpt from Eye on Williamson County's post:
Her decision to stand up to Speaker Craddick, wing-nut money changer Dr. James Leininger, and the many Republican voucher sheep - in order to save what's left of our public schools so there is still a chance they can become what they should be - was an extraordinary act of courage, dignity, justice and just plain doing the right thing.
And from Hope at The Appalachia Alumni Association:
Perhaps this year's Texan of the Year Award should be renamed the Bill Ratliff Memorial Award For Not Being A Slave To Power Politics.
Update #2 (also today): Kuffner notes Casteel's comment...
What concerns me is how public education became a liberal issue! That's a conservative value.
To me, public education isn't a conservative value any more than it's a liberal value. It is, or at least I hope it is, a universal value. It's a recognition by society that everyone benefits when knowledge and learning are accessible to all. We can argue about how best to implement that, and frankly I think we're best off when we have many perspectives in that argument, but we all need to agree that we have to implement it somehow before that argument can be a productive one. With people like Rep. Casteel in Austin, I feel like that's possible.
And By the Bayou points out that, unlike the other nominees, Casteel had significant impact for better and for worse:
Representative Casteel certainly deserves credit for her work on education. However, she was part of something else that had a big impact on Texas this year, and it wasn't something good: she was a co-author of HJR 6, which put the now-passed anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in November.
On the other hand, though, she also voted against legislation that would have banned gay people from being foster parents. That was a good vote, and courageous for a Republican. ...
While many of the other final nominees had an impact on Texas in one area or another, Ms. Casteel managed to be influential in two areas. First, she courageously broke with her party's leadership to help protect public education in Texas. She has demonstrated bipartisanship in an increasingly partisan legislature, and that's to be commended.
But second, she not-so-courageously helped write discrimination into the state constitution. The impact of that one will be felt longer, and while it qualifies her as a person of importance this year, it's nothing to be proud of.