Lt. gov­er­nor hope­ful Col­lier is a prob­lem-solver with a plan

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - ERICA GRIEDER

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.

Fully baked

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.


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