Special to the NNPA from the The Dallas Examiner –
On Oct. 4, at the invitation of The Dallas Examiner, Governor Rick Perry agreed to discuss his position on key issues, such as appointments of African Americans to significant positions in the state, his decision not to close Texas Southern University, CHIPS, Texas textbook issues and tuition costs at state colleges and universities. Due to time restraints, the issues of concern to the African American community that were discussed with the Governor were limited.
The Dallas Examiner (TDE): Governor Perry, you have appointed more African Americans to significant boards and commissions in Texas than probably any other governor. You appointed Wallace Jefferson, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Bill Jones, Board of Regents of Texas A&M System (later elected by the board as Chair), Anthony Sadberry, Commissioner of the Texas Lottery System, and Albert Hawkins, Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commissions. Additionally, you have appointed an African American to almost every college and university board in Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry: Bill Jones was one of the few African Americans at Texas A&M in the late sixties when I went to school there and we have kept up with each other all these years. He is a very successful lawyer now in Austin; however, the person on this list of appointments that for my perspective is the most powerful story of the early 21st century America, certainly the 21st century in Texas, is Wallace Jefferson. I knew Wallace peripherally was a smart, capable scholar of a lawyer. I think he had taken three separate court cases to the United States Supreme Court and won all of them. That is a tremendous part of one's resume that very few people will ever have - I mean lawyers. And, when we had an opening on the Texas Supreme Court, I didn't think about when was the last time an African American served in this position. I do think it is important to have people with different viewpoints serve on boards and agencies, so that we have a mix - a mosaic that represents the different cultures in our state. There had never been an African American on the Texas Supreme Court. Wallace's story is so powerful because he was the first African American to be on the Texas Supreme Court. His appointment as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court was an easy decision for me, in spite of the fact that there had been others on the court who had served longer. I feel it is important to send messages to kids - who you support, who you surround yourself with, who you help.
Wallace Jefferson became the chief justice, partly because Texans needed to see that no matter where you come from, the color of your skin or the sound of your last name, that if you are willing to work hard and play by the rules you can become anything you want in this state. Wallace Jefferson's great grandfather was sold on the steps of the McClendon County Courthouse in the 1850s; he belonged to somebody; he was sold like a horse. And, today that man's great grandson walks up the steps of the highest courthouse in Texas as the chief justice.
TDE: Several years ago, Texas Southern University was in serious financial trouble. Many thought the solution to the problem was to merge the university with the University of Houston. You decided to save the university. You appointed a new Board of Trustees, who in turn hired a new president. The university is apparently solvent at this time. What were the factors you considered when making the decision to save the university?
Gov. Perry: Texas Southern University is one of the nation's largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities. At the time of the financial troubles you mentioned, I felt strongly that the university was important enough to the state and the Houston community that we needed to do whatever it took to correct the problems that existed. When I was a young legislator, Texas Southern University had financial problems. Under my watch, I couldn't let that happen. I had an open mind - what is best - should the school be closed or merged with another school. Ron Wilson, a former legislator and one of my closest confidants, and Gary Bledsoe, state NAACP president, were two people that I trusted and respected. Gary knew the community, and Ron loves me like a brother and would not let me make a mistake that would hurt me. We had to get rid of some of the administrators and appointed a new board, who selected a new president.
I am encouraged by the progress the university has made and I believe strongly that not only is the community well served by this university, but the state and nation as well. From 2000 to 2009, the number of degrees awarded by Texas Southern University has increased 54 percent. That kind of success is exciting for our state, and it is a testimony to the kind of spirit that exists at Texas Southern. I was the speaker at TSU's commencement last year. I believe it was the first time a governor has been the commencement speaker, and I proudly congratulated and shook the hand of all eight hundred plus graduates.
TDE: In 2009 only families making less than twice the federal poverty level - around $44,100 for a family of four - were eligible for the joint federal and state health care program - CHIP. It is my understanding that you were not in favor of the Senate plan that would allow families making up to 300 percent of the poverty level to get into the program by paying a share of the cost. Some families making more than that would have been able to fully buy into the program.
Why were you not in favor of the CHIP expanded health coverage plan?
Gov. Perry: I think what is most important for Texans right now is to focus on encouraging parents to enroll their children who are currently eligible but not enrolled. Texas has an estimated 177,000 children who are currently eligible but not enrolled. Our state spent more than $5.5 million in 2008, with an additional $5.9 million expected to be spent in 2009 and that same amount in 2010 on various efforts to educate parents about both CHIP and Children's Medicaid program and encourage them to enroll their children.
TDE: The cost for a student to attend Texas A&M is approximately $19,000 per year. The average family is not able to pay this for a student to go to college. Tuition deregulation began September 1, 2003 and schools began increasing designated tuition rates in Spring 2004. Since deregulation began, academic charges for a student taking 15 semester hours at a public university have increased by 72 percent. Texas needs an educated workforce to attract business. If the cost of a college education continues to escalate, then the number of students graduating from college in Texas will degrease, thus negatively impacting business coming to the state.
Do you have plans to assist low- to moderate- income families to educate their children?
Gov. Perry: Yes. As a father who has put two children through college, one at Texas A&M, I understand what families go through to offer their children a promising future. I am a strong advocate for what I call the "four-year tuition freeze." This would mean that when a student registers their freshman year of college - the rates they pay will be locked in for the next four years. This allows students and their families more predictability to plan for the cost of education over four years. Further, I am very proud that under my leadership, financial aid in Texas has increased by 911 percent. The cost of a higher education in Texas is just below the national average and we are doing all we can to continue to make it more accessible. With enrollment rates at an all-time high, we are seeing success in this endeavor.
TDE: Texas House Bill 568, commonly referred to as "Top 10% Rule," is a Texas law passed in 1997. The law guarantees Texas students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded universities. Texas needs a diverse, highly educated workforce and the African American community believes that the 10 percent rule will ensure that minorities are admitted to not only the flagship universities in Texas, but to all state supported schools.
In the past legislative sessions, there has been a strong effort to eliminate or water down the 10 percent rule. What is your position on the 10 percent rule?
Gov. Perry: The top 10 percent rule was an important piece of legislation for both our minority communities as well as our rural communities. Recently, I signed a piece of legislation that modified the "Top 10 Percent" law by capping the percentage of the entering class of freshmen at the University of Texas to 75 percent in 2011. I believe it is vitally important the universities look at the student as a whole and consider more than just this one single factor in determining enrollment eligibility.
TDE: For much of the past year, the Texas State Board of Education has been considering changes to its social studies curriculum, hearing from community members and debating alterations to the way the state will teach history. Many on the board, which is made up of ten Republicans and five Democrats, seem to have concluded that Texas' classrooms have been infected with a liberal bias. As a result, the board spent numerous hours hearing from members of the community on subjects such as whether labor activist Cesar Chavez and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall deserve space in history textbooks alongside founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin.
What is your position on the Texas State Board of Education's efforts to remove African American and Hispanic achievements in Texas from textbooks?
Gov. Perry: There are currently requirements in the Texas curriculum that both Cesar Chavez and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall must be taught, and rightfully so. Texas has a rich and diverse historical heritage and I believe that the individuals who have contributed the greatest efforts and accomplishments to our state's culture be recognized for the legacy they have left our state.
Our State Board of Education members are publicly elected by the people of Texas. These are the people Texans have entrusted to determine our state's curriculum, and I believe in the system our state has in place. I believe these members are doing their part to ensure such individuals are recognized in our public schools' curriculum and their story is accurately taught to our school children.