Lt. governor hopeful Collier is a problem-solver with a plan
Readers might find this hard to believe, but I am a nerd. The same was true of David Dewhurst, who served three terms as lieutenant governor before being unseated in 2014 after losing the Republican primary runoff to state Sen. Dan Patrick, who cruised to victory in that year’s general election. The office at hand is arguably the most powerful one in state government, because the lieutenant governor presides over the Texas Senate. When Dewhurst was lieutenant governor, the Texas Senate sometimes had serious, substantive policy debates. After he left, things changed.
In 2015, when Patrick’s plan to give property tax relief to Texas homeowners bumped up against the state’s constitutional spending cap, he decreed that property tax relief should not be counted as state spending. Problem solved.
I own a home in Travis County, so I understand why many Texans are frustrated by their property tax bills. And, in candor, I have a soft spot for Patrick, a former talk radio host who served two terms in the Texas Senate before running statewide.
Still, if the Legislature appropriates money to provide property tax relief, that relief would by definition be state spending. And Patrick has gone on to offer similarly baffling opinions on other high-profile issues.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School last month, for example, he drew international headlines after calling for a national conversation about abortion, video games and the fact that schools have doors.
“There are too many entrances and too many exits,” Patrick said at a news conference.
Patrick is running for reelection this year. Having fended off a primary challenge from public education advocate Scott Milder, he will face Democrat
Mike Collier in November.
No one is really paying attention to the race, for some reason. But Patrick is, I suspect, more vulnerable than he appears. About 24 percent of the Texans who voted in the Republican primary opted for Milder, who subsequently endorsed Collier.
And Collier, as it happens, is a good candidate. He’s a Democrat who was the party’s nominee for comptroller in 2014, but he’s not a knee-jerk partisan. A CPA by profession, he was a Republican for much of his adult life. Beyond that, Collier clearly cares about what’s best for our state. And he is, like me and Dewhurst, a nerd.
“Can I draw you a picture?” he asked me on Tuesday afternoon, after explaining that he’s met with many rural Texans who are seriously concerned about our state’s approach to water rights.
I had actually come by Collier’s campaign headquarters for the rollout of his health care plan, but I agreed. His interest in the issue was infectious. The same had been true of the presentation he had just given, summarizing the four major elements of his health care plan.
I was ambivalent about Collier’s suggestion that the state should encourage Texans to get covered via the exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act. The health insurance plans available there are not a particularly good deal for young workers in generally good health.
And I’ve been wary of the prospect of Medicaid expansion in Texas, which was the second element of Collier’s plan. The money the state spends on health care can’t be spent on public education; that’s a cruel choice, perhaps, but it’s not exactly a false one.
But Collier’s call to promote technology geared toward cost containment was unobjectionable, as was his proposal for a Patient Financial Bill of Rights. And none of his ideas was half-baked, much less absurd.
And in a sense, the best part of Collier’s plan is that it exists. Some Texans might object to his approach. Donors probably doubt that he’ll have a chance to implement any of these ideas. And the problems with our health care system, as Collier acknowledged, are legion. Some of them would have to be tackled at the federal level, even if Democrats regain power in the state.
Man with a plan
But there are some things the Legislature could do on behalf of the millions of Texans who lack reliable access to affordable care; Collier is absolutely right about that. This is, as he said, an issue that most Texans care about, even if it doesn’t command the cable news coverage routinely afforded to the latest social-media contretemps.
“The reason why I’m running for lieutenant governor is because I’m a problem-solver,” Collier had said at the beginning of his talk.
In 2014, Patrick pitched himself the same way. But he never had a serious plan for tackling property tax burdens in Texas, even though that was was one of the problems he had declared a priority. And although I appreciate the lieutenant governor’s willingness to think outside the box, some of his off-the-cuff ideas have seemed like deflections rather than bursts of inspiration.
Perhaps our schools do have too many doors; I’m agnostic about that. But I will note that when I was in seventh grade my classmate Ronnie threw a chair through the window of the science classroom, then escaped through the exit he had made. Perhaps Collier doesn’t have a chance, but he does have a plan — and without a plan, nothing will change.