Dan Patrick seems to have no issue with verbal altercation. The state senator, representing parts of northwest Houston, has gained quick notoriety for transferring his acidic on-air personality to the halls of Austin. He's offered crocodile tears for the students he purports to support. He's castigated pro-choice advocates on the floor while coddling those in his camp. Patrick, the Senate Educational Committee chair, has introduced a political theater that Texas hasn't seen in some time.
But while Hair Balls has been harping on Patrick's method acting for some time, and while those on the other side of the aisle have often cited him while chastising Texas's hard-right Republican branch, it appears those closer to Patrick are finally taking notice. If this week is any indicator, Patrick has rapidly morphed into one of the most maligned characters set to take part in Gov. Perry's special session. Those tears and jeers he so often employs have finally corroded those who should otherwise offer their support or nonbiased ear as he attempts to chug toward higher office.
Put simply: Patrick's foes are no longer the Democrats that he and his committee can so rapidly write off. Those he's ticked off are far closer than he'd like.
The first he seems to have lost is the Texas Monthly, which recently revealed its list of Best and Worst Legislators of the 2013 Session. Some may have been surprised to see Patrick's name in the "Worst" list. After all, despite the abject and embarrassing failures of his neo-voucher scheme -- the GOP-controlled House hardly gave it a second's thought -- Patrick managed to both shift graduation requirements and lift the charter cap. Not an altogether unproductive session.
However, as the Quorum Report notes, Texas Monthly landed Patrick on the "Worst" list less for his ends and more for his means. As they noted, "There are few types of lawmakers less helpful to the legislative process than bullies and ideologues. Unfortunately, Dan Patrick too often seemed to be both in his first session as the chair of the Senate Education Committee."
While the Monthly hedged its judgment -- Patrick "seem[s]" like a bully and ideologue -- it's easily the strongest language used on their "Worst" list. Not the best foot forward in Patrick's first year as chair.
However, the most unforgiving language came not from the disinterested media but from someone who should be, theoretically, in Patrick's camp. Thomas Ratliff, a Republican out of Mount Pleasant, has served on the State Board of Education since 2010, and as vice chairman he's helped steer the committee through some of its most controversial days. Ratliff has done what he can to restore the SBOE's reputation following arch-creationist Don McLeroy's days as chairman. But where McLeroy was direct and brusque in his motivations -- we always knew he believed there were velociraptors on Noah's Ark -- Patrick has been circumspect. After tasking the SBOE with reviewing the state's CSCOPE lesson and curriculum program, Patrick abruptly terminated CSCOPE's lesson-planning arm. Playing to the fringe, screeching elements of the state -- the ones who somehow believed Catholic schools were instilling Islamic doctrine -- Patrick took his Big Government ax to all the smaller school districts that used CSCOPE's planning materials.
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Such backhanded, pandering maneuvers didn't sit well with Ratliff. In a letter shared by the Texas Freedom Network, with all emphasis his, the Republican unleashes his wrath:
Our country was founded on a "no-bullying" policy when our founders stood up to an English King who tried to bully us. Our military has helped other countries stand up to bullies throughout history. Even today, every Texas public school has a "no bullying" policy for protection of their students.
It's time for parents, educators, and school board members to stand up to another bully. Senator Dan Patrick. To be fair, there are some things he has done to help public education. However, the majority of his efforts are designed to bully all of us to agree with him on things like vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, charter schools, and finally CSCOPE. Senator Patrick, who has no schools who use CSCOPE in his district, first set out to "improve" but ultimately destroyed a tool used by 80% of the school districts in Texas. I have referred to his effort as a "21st century book burning." ...
I think a quote by Upton Sinclair clearly describes what is happening here. His quote,"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it." If you substitute the word "paycheck" with "re-election" "conservative rating" or "number of Facebook friends," you start to understand the motive behind Senator Patrick wanting to eliminate CSCOPE lessons.
Censorship is censorship, regardless of who's calling the shots. This is a core belief of our country and we shouldn't stand for it.
To be clear, of the 1,300 lessons in CSCOPE, there have only been a small handful of "controversial" examples talked about. Is CSCOPE perfect? No. I would doubt any curriculum of any school, public or private, is perfect. But, in an effort to get rid of the few lessons he didn't like, Senator Patrick threatened the Regional Service Centers who created CSCOPE to pull it down or he would take his bullying to the next level.
But, apparently even after CSCOPE agreed to pull down the lessons, Senator Patrick still isn't done. Now he is asking people to "report" school districts that want to continue to use CSCOPE lessons that they helped develop. He says he will "share" that information with the Attorney General for some sort of enforcement action I guess. This looks like the Social Studies police, or SS for short. What's next? Will the state start barging in the door of a teacher's room to destroy or confiscate her "controversial" lesson plans. Where does it stop?
The letter's worth a read in full, especially if you'd like a brief history of the German book-burnings during the early days of the Nazi regime. And it's as indicative as anything of the rancor Patrick has developed around him. This was a Republican eviscerating a fellow Republican. This was someone with direct access and insight to the needs of Texas's schoolchildren pushing back against one of the best tools teachers had to educate future generations. This was a sane, salient individual trying to call out a man representing the worst our state has to offer.
This was not a good week for Sen. Patrick. And with the special session set, the reactions may have just begun.