Mom Knows Best, Jimmy

Grusendorf, Keffer, Seaman, & Wong. No, it’s not the name of a prominent law firm but rather a few of the big names in the old Texas Legislature who found themselves on the wrong side of the electorate and in the sights of one of the unlikeliest heroes of the recent election cycle: Texas Parent PAC’s chairwoman, Carolyn Boyle.

Boyle and Parent PAC came on the scene in 2005 declaring a parent revolt for better public education. They raised $500,000 to support 12 candidates in 2006, and earned their stripes helping knock off well-funded incumbents like Republican Kent Grusendorf, the warlock that was perched atop the House Education Committee.

Boyle is upsetting “the right-wing’s master plan for education” — as the Texas Observer calls the push for state-funded, private-school vouchers — and the Texas Progressive Alliance named Boyle Texan of the Year for her trouble. Boyle spoke with the Current from her Austin home.

Why did you start Texas Parent PAC?

The Texas Legislature in 2005 was very frustrating to me and many other parents just because it appeared that partisan politics trumped good public policy. Public schools were not being taken care of. They had multiple sessions and they still couldn’t solve the problem with public schools.

Many parents came to the Capitol for Public Advocacy Day, and so many parents said their legislators were not listening.

At what point in this endeavor did you realize, “Hey, this has really become a big deal?”

The candidates we endorsed were not the “chosen candidates” by the powers-that-be. By the time the `March 2006 Republican` primary was over and five of our candidates had won — and none of those were the “chosen ones” — we knew parent power could make a difference.

Do you ever worry that there are defeated politicians out there going to bed every night cussing your name?

The whole process is kind of interesting if you are a Christian: Can you do this political stuff and still have the Christian attitude about people and events? So, I try not to say ugly things about people and I don’t lie about what I’m doing or why, and I try not to be mean. Of course, because I was the point person for vouchers for eight years in the Capitol, I’ve seen the different sides of `the voucher debate` for years. I’ve seen the influence of `James` Leininger and what he’s trying to do to move into a different arena.

Leininger’s name comes up a lot because he’s spent so much money on electing pro-voucher candidates to the Legislature. Do you think Texas needs campaign-finance reform?

I think we need some campaign-finance reform in Texas. What’s skewed the process is that our contributors to Parent PAC contribute like $100, which is probably a sacrifice for many of those people. And we’ve had more than 500 contributors. And we really appreciate those people and the trust they’ve placed in our PAC. `But` knowing that a James Leininger could write a check for a million and give it to one candidate to challenge Carter Casteel `former representative from New Braunfels` does not help the process.  

Unlike a lot of PACs, Parent PAC is non-partisan. Does that make things more difficult?

We are bipartisan, but our opponents like to come up with negative things. One blog called us the “educrat” PAC. But we are who we say we are … We don’t believe that public education should be a partisan issue. Children aren’t Republicans or Democrats; children deserve good schools. Just in terms of money, we gave money to a few Republicans and a few Democrats. Our intent was to choose an equal number, and we tried to do 10 of each, but that was before we knew we’d have to help some of the incumbents.

Of all the races Parent PAC was involved in during 2006, which one stands out as the most uphill battle and why?

Joe Heflin in `former House Speaker Pete` Laney’s district. His district was drawn to be a Republican district and many of the traditional PACs were not involved in that race because they didn’t think he could win. But he was so much more qualified than his opponent, with really deep roots in the `West Texas` district.

We really cared about that race. Two people on our board traveled all over the district doing media tours with Joe and we had a part-time person working up there on the campaign — a recent college graduate in government. We did a lot of direct mail and phone banking.

Are you surprised at all of the positive coverage Parent PAC has received?

Surprised? Yes. I was partly. I think that the news media has been kind to us because it is a nice story: little guys picking on the big boys. So they’ve been kind to us … and we are humble about it, though, because other groups were involved in the campaigns.

I think I’ve gotten more notice than the people on our board, but we have eight people on the Parent PAC board of directors, and they are all extremely good advocates for children and each one worked hard on these campaigns. I was the one pretty much volunteering 24/7, but we are a working board, and a low overhead operation — just a P.O. Box and a telephone, no permanent paid staff, a working board — and people are kind of surprised about that until I said we were all trained through the PTA, and that this is the PTA model: Come and volunteer time … and bring gifts.

Does Texas Parent PAC have any plans for the upcoming session in terms of lobbying the Legislature?

We are not a lobbying organization. We have had a couple of candidates who have been calling about what bills and issues to look out for and I’m telling them, “We chose a person like you and you have good judgment,” period. We’re working on electoral politics — recruiting candidates and rais`ing` money.

What about races for the next cycle? Have any target seats in mind?

Texas Parent PAC does not have a target list, but we do have a geographic list of areas that do need better representation. We are going to be kicking off the talent search `this month`. There are really good people in Texas and some need to be talked into running. l

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