Texas government

Jan Soifer, Chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, talks about the obstacles she faced during her campaign. The panel discussion, hosted by University Democrats, addressed the future of women in politics.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats hosted a panel Wednesday where women in Texas government addressed the challenges they faced as a result of their gender, including feeling isolated and having a harder time raising adequate funds. 

Former state representative Sherri Greenberg, interim director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School, said running for office as a woman set her apart from the rest of the field. 

“My profile was very different than people who were running at the time,” Greenberg said. “I was 29, 30 years old. I was working. I had a child.”

Greenberg said the lack of women occupying public office also meant she did not always have role models to identify with.

“For me, there weren’t many people running or elected that truly looked like me,” she said. “I don’t think I had as many role models as you do today.”

Greenberg said historically, women were less able to fundraise on a level equal with their male counterparts, in part because women are taught not to be demanding. 

“For some women it was because they couldn’t ask,” Greenberg said. “Other women were not accustomed to giving.”

Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, said she was also affected by the social norms surrounding self-promotion. Even though Soifer was used to working in a male-dominated field, she said she still struggled to break free of gender expectations.

“I was used to being one of the only [woman lawyers], but I also had a hard time being out there, selling myself,” Soifer said. “That was something we were socialized not to do.”

Blake Medley, government senior and president of University Democrats, said his organization was motivated to host the panel because the role of women in politics has become a hot topic this semester.

“We knew going into this semester we wanted to have some sort of event focused on women and women in politics because it is a big issue,” Medley said. “It was certainly a big issue during the end of the legislature.”

Medley said that though a “war on women” has become a political buzzword, it does occasionally reflect reality. 

Medley said now is the optimal time for students to become engaged in politics because of their exposure to different issues as college students.

“A lot of people our age, especially, have a more open mindset,” Medley said. “When there’s an injustice and they know about it, they’re usually against it.”

Where's Perry?

Last week, as the special session of the 82nd Texas Legislature put the finishing touches on one of the most hotly-contested state budgets in recent history, the most powerful man in Texas government couldn’t be found within a coyote’s howl of the state.

As Republicans and Democrats debated how to make up for a $19 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, Gov. Rick Perry was on a whirlwind cross-country tour, the only purpose of which seemed to be to sheepishly invite questions regarding a possible presidential bid in 2012. Perry has previously stated he would not run, saying last year, “I don’t have any interest in going to D.C. as a president, vice president, member of Congress, car guard — none of the above.” But the buzz surrounding our state’s longest-serving governor has continued to mount, and his latest round of out-of-state speaking engagements has some questioning whether Perry is considering throwing his hat into the ring.

Perry has spent the last week traveling cross-country from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans, a trip which included stops to meet with “potential donors” and an appearance on Fox News where he called himself a “prophet.” Perhaps that term was merely a reference to the national prayer rally that Perry has been busy planning for later this summer. At the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, where Perry signed copies of his book “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” buttons sporting “Perry 2012” were hot sellers.

Meanwhile, as Perry has been feverishly ripping the Obama administration in his stump speeches, calling it “irresponsible,” the state he governs still does not have a budget for the upcoming year. School districts are laying off teachers, health services aiding thousands of Texans are getting cut and Perry’s primary concern is making sure potential voters know just how much he dislikes President Barack Obama.

The focus of Perry’s speeches has centered on Texas’ economic performance during the current recession; Perry touts a number of measures showing the state has fared better than its peers in recent years. Some numbers Perry won’t mention include the state’s dismal education ranking — placing it at the bottom of the lists for student achievement — spending per student and graduation rates. Those numbers show no hope of improvement, given the proposed cuts to public education in the state.

Meanwhile, while scouting his campaign trail, Perry seems perfectly content to play the role of prettiest girl at the prom. Texans are left wondering where the party was. 


Preserving higher education

Several state leaders have formed the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, unveiled last week, to address the higher education debate that could substantially reduce the quality of education offered in the state.

In the past several months, Gov. Rick Perry and the UT System Board of Regents have shown support for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose proposed reforms include a separation of research and teaching budgets, which would significantly reduce University-generated research, and an unfeasible reduction in tuition costs that would likely result in increased class sizes and fewer courses.

We applaud the efforts of everyone who has spoken out against the proposed reforms and appreciate the action taken by the group’s founding members, which total more than 200. The coalition which includes former university presidents, regents, and lieutenant governors will help improve discussions and increase transparency surrounding higher education in the state. The group has also garnered attention for the diverse backgrounds of its participants, which includes many former Perry supporters and influential donors from both political parties. We hope it is the first of many steps to preserve the quality of education offered at UT and other universities across Texas.

Sam Kinch Jr., Dallas Morning News reporter and former editor for The Daily Texan, died Tuesday. Kinch, 70, suffered from pancreatic cancer. Austin American-Statesman columnist Dave McNeely remembers his 50-year-long friendship with Kinch, which began at the offices of The Daily Texan. “He became editor in 1962. The next year, he had me covering Texas Legislature,” said McNeely, whose column on Texas government and politics is carried in several Texas newspapers. “He was one of three appointed editors that year. He was the first; I was the second. I wouldn’t be covering Texas politics today if it weren’t for him.” McNeely and Kinch continued their friendship well into their professional and personal lives. When Kinch was living and working in Washington, D.C., McNeely earned a Congressional Fellowship that brought him and his family to D.C. across the courtyard from Kinch and his family. “We would go on family outings together: me, my wife and my three daughters, and him and his wife and children,” McNeely said. The pair reunited again in the Texas press corps, Kinch with The Dallas Morning News and McNeely with the Austin American-Statesman. McNeely said he remembers Kinch’s irreverence, work ethic, outgoing personality and dedication to his field. “He very much believed in the notion that journalism was integral to running a democracy, that this is how a people should govern themselves,” McNeely said. Kinch also founded Texas Weekly, an influential newsletter on Texas politics. In 1998, Kinch sold the weekly to Ross Ramsey, managing editor of the Texas Tribune and concurrent editor of Texas Weekly. “Sam was something of a one-man show,” Ramsey said. “Since his work with the Texan, he had a future in journalism. We would always see each other in the press corps where we got to know one another, and then he became a great reporter in Dallas.” Kinch also authored “Texas Under a Cloud,” the first book about the 1972 Sharpstown stock fraud and banking scandal that rattled the Texas government. S. Griffin Singer, senior lecturer at the journalism school, remembers Kinch from when they worked together at The Dallas Morning News, where Kinch was a part of the Austin bureau while Singer was on the metro desk. “Sam’s dad was a longtime Capitol Bureau reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram,” Singer said of Sam Kinch Sr. “Like father, like son.” Kinch is survived by his wife, Lilas, his two sons, Sean and Ashby, his daughter Keary and six grandchildren.