Texas: Mess With it or Leave It
∑ Itís not un-Texan to see the
real problems and push for change
AUSTIN -- Itís getting hot in Texas, and itís not
just the weather. Presidential politics have directed the spotlight onto
the Lone Star State with unprecedented intensity. The mediaís focus has
highlighted some not-so-flattering aspects of our state that have been
interpreted as "Texas-bashing"
by officials and pundits.
In a melodramatic move to defend Texasí honor, a
self-appointed group of apologists have formed to counter the
"unfair" picture that is being painted of Texas by the national
media. Rallying to the cry of "Donít Mess with Texas," our
brave defenders have called into question the loyalty, and even the
honesty of those who air our stateís dirty laundry in front of the
nation. They imply that it is un-Texan. The message is that we cannot be
both a wonderful state with many fine qualities and, at the same time, be
truthful about our flaws and weaknesses. It is the year 2000 Texas
equivalent of the 1960s slogan, "America, love it or leave it."
Trouble is, there are a great number of fiercely proud
Texans whose very loyalty is expressed by working to identify problems,
improve conditions for all our residents and ensure that Texas retains its
prosperity into the future. People who deny their failings limit their
ability to grow and prosper. And, as any corporate manager knows, you
cannot build a successful business plan for the future without diagnosing
your weaknesses and moving to address them.
The other hitch to the "Donít Mess with
Texas" approach is that it is disingenuous. The national media
attention has held up a mirror to our state, reflecting back to us images
all Texans should be aware of:
∑ Almost 3 Ĺ million Texans live in poverty, most
of them in families where at least one person works
∑ Texas is first among the states in the percentage
of residents without health insurance
∑ A third of Texas children are hungry or at risk
∑ Texasí gap between the rich and the poor is the
seventh largest in the U.S.
These and many other Texas truths are publicized on our
organizationís web site: www.cppp.org.†
So you might say that we are some of those doing the messing. But it is
messing with a purpose: to make Texas an even greater state. And, with a
number of openly chauvinistic native Texans on staff with roots in this
state going back as far as 150 years, we think we are in as good a
position as any to insist that we look honestly at ourselves.
Regardless of ideological bent, those engaged in public
service in our state generally have one common trait: a desire for Texas
to be the best it can be. Though the economy is prospering and the
majority of Texans are doing well, it is still true that too many in our
state are not benefiting from these bountiful times. Most Texans who are
proud of their state and love its history, beauty, and promise, will see
in its faults opportunities for improvement. Our stateís limitations
donít detract from its greatness; they merely present a challenge that
no true Texan would shy away from. There are a lot of those true Texans
out there, and they have the power to act and to urge others to act. It
would be un-Texan not to.
Dianne Stewart is Executive Director of the Center for
Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas. The CPPP is a non-profit,
non-partisan research organization, working to improve the social and
economic prospects of low-income Texans.