Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. November 20, 2022.

Editorial: GOP misread the Latino vote in South Texas

But there is a way the right can win a greater share of Hispanic votes

The Texas GOP expected big wins with Latino voters in the midterm elections. Instead, they lost two out of three key congressional races in South Texas, where they invested heavily. So what happened?

The simple answer is that engaging voters is not an on/off switch. It takes time and hard work, and one election cycle is simply not enough. Making generic assumptions about the Latino vote in Texas didn’t help either.

Republicans got the messaging wrong, said Jason Villalba from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. They thought that Trump populism would appeal to these voters and paid a price for it.

But it is worth highlighting that the Republican Party made its first serious outreach to Hispanic voters in Texas since the election of George W. Bush in the 2000s. Bush ran on a unifying message, in sharp contrast with Gov. Greg Abbott, whom many Latinos still find deeply divisive.

Abbott got 40% of the Latino vote, down from 42% four years ago, according to a CNN poll, despite betting big on this electorate.

Nationwide, Latino voters remained solidly Democratic, with 64% reporting that they voted for a Democratic House candidate, compared with 33% who voted for a Republican, according to the 2022 Midterm Election Voter Poll.

The GOP got their hopes up when Mayra Flores — a Donald Trump supporter — won a special election in June. But the devil is in the details: Flores was always an outlier, and Democrats waited to campaign seriously only for the November election where Rep. Vicente Gonzalez prevailed in the newly redesigned 34th District.

Then, longtime Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar easily defeated newcomer Cassy Garcia in the 28th District. Cuellar, a centrist politician, told The Texas Tribune that he ran his campaign on two issues that align with Republicans: protecting the oil and gas industry and boosting law enforcement and border security.

Meanwhile, Republican Monica De La Cruz won the 15th Congressional District, beating Michelle Vallejo, a progressive Democrat, in a district redrawn to favor the GOP.

There is a different story playing out here. South Texas voters rejected extremism in favor of more moderate candidates. Cuellar and de la Cruz may play for different teams, but they are closer ideologically than their opponents would have been had they been elected.

This is the biggest lesson for both parties. Hispanic voters are not single-issue voters, and while most reject Trumpism, they are also wary of progressive identity ideology.

It is true that kitchen table issues play a major role, but so do social issues like gun control and immigration.

In the end, the GOP overestimated the rightward shift from the Hispanic electorate in South Texas. “The data never showed that,” Villalba said. “Data showed an opening for Republicans with kitchen table issues. It did not mean Hispanics were becoming Republicans, it meant they were interested in the messaging.”

However, the rightward shift, while narrow, is real, and both parties should pay closer attention to their messaging and their candidates.

South Texas voters showed they are pragmatic, and, therefore, an appeal to the center is the route to victory.

___

Houston Chronicle. November 23, 2022.

Editorial: Texas teachers deserve fair Social Security benefits

Imagine you’re a recently retired teacher in Texas. You spent your career earning a lower salary than most of your fellow teachers across the nation. You spent more than $700 from your own pocket each year on school supplies, while Texas spent less per student each year than all but eight states. The last time you received a cost-of-living increase to your benefits was 18 years ago.

But through that hardship, you’ve earned a healthy pension and Social Security benefits. Only when your first Social Security check comes in the mail, it’s about half the amount you thought it would be. So much for a nest egg.

The retirement security of more than 200,000 Texans is being affected by the residue of a Social Security overhaul deal struck by Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill nearly 40 years ago. As part of this bipartisan compromise, the federal government instituted the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset, two rules that reduce Social Security payments retirees receive if they also get a public pension from a job that didn’t pay into Social Security. For public sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and police officers, the windfall deduction can take as much as $512 a month from their Social Security payouts, and the pension offset can sometimes eliminate Social Security benefits entirely.

The intent behind the Windfall Elimination Provision was to prevent workers who collect pensions from double-dipping and receiving an unintended advantage – a “windfall” – in Social Security benefits. The thinking goes that public sector workers, such as teachers, who earn a pension and thus contribute far less to the Social Security program, don’t need as much of a Social Security payout when they retire. It also saves the federal government billions of dollars, though the Social Security Trust fund still runs an annual deficit of $56.3 billion.

Yet for retired educators in Texas, where retirement benefits rank among the worst in the nation, their pensions are not large enough to cover the reduction in their Social Security checks.

The Legislature hasn’t approved a cost-of-living increase for retired teachers in nearly a decade, affecting every teacher who has retired since 2004. If a cost-of-living adjustment had been in effect for retired teacher pension payments, a Texas retiree would now be getting almost $3,000 per month. Instead, they’ve seen their buying power dwindle: $2,000 in 2022 is equal to $1,350.89 in 2004.

Rather than approving increases to their monthly pension checks, the Legislature has opted for one-time bonuses. Last year, the Legislature spent $701 million to send “13th checks” to more than 400,000 Texas Retirement System members, equal to retirees’ monthly annuity or $2,400, whichever was less.

Well, now that the state is apparently flush in cash, it’s time for the Legislature to do right by our retired educators. With an extra $27 billion in the coffers thanks to robust sales tax revenues, lawmakers should use a chunk of that money to give retirees’ pensions a long overdue cost-of-living boost.

Yet while raises for retirees would at least somewhat blunt the impact of their smaller Social Security checks, the onus is on Congress go a step further and reform the windfall elimination and government pension penalties for good.

In Washington, Social Security is commonly known as the Third Rail of the federal government – don’t touch it, don’t think about it, and certainly don’t even breathe the words “reform” unless you want every senior citizen in the nation to rise up in protest.

However, as the federal government inches towards the 2035 deadline when Social Security trust fund reserves are projected to become exhausted, some lawmakers are beginning to take their stewardship seriously. Chief among them are U.S. Reps. Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands) and Richard Neal (D-MA), the top Republican and Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, who have voiced support for bipartisan reforms to Social Security.

A bill to fully repeal both the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset has more than 300 co-sponsors in the House. Yet that measure would also increase the Social Security Administration’s costs by $146 billion over the next ten years and would deplete the trust fund’s reserves one year earlier than projected.

Both Neal and Brady have proposed narrower reforms. They favor a proportional change to windfall elimination that would tailor the amount of Social Security deductions to an individual’s career path and how many years they did and did not pay into the system. Neal’s proposal would also include rebate payments for retired and disabled-worker beneficiaries affected by the current Windfall Elimination Provision of up to $150 per month, which would increase with cost-of-living adjustments. Neither bill would affect Social Security’s long-term outlook.

We urge Congress to swiftly put these bills on the floor for a vote in the lame duck session. Brady is retiring at year’s end and come January, the new Republican House majority will likely be far less interested in reforming Social Security.

Educators in Texas, and across the nation, have more than earned the comfort of retirement. It’s long past time that their Social Security checks rewarded their years of service.

END