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A Day in the Life of the Governor of Texas
Compared to his or her peers across the nation, the governor of Texas occupies somewhat of a weak office. Successful governors in Texas garner support for their agendas not only by the deft use of their formal powers, like the power of appointment and the line-item veto, but with their informal powers, too, including personality and the overall prestige of the office. Successful governors are successful politicians.
In this simulation you will learn to navigate the office of the governor. While you do have a capable staff to advise you, you alone will be held accountable by the electorate for the decisions you make. You will spend one day in the governor of Texas’s shoes, encountering a few of the issues he or she may face on any given day.
Decisions will be made on bills that will be considered by the legislature, on how you plan to handle key issues, and on meeting with a variety of groups from which you rely on support for re-election. Pay attention and be ready for a few unexpected curve balls. Good luck!
9:00 a.m. : Your chief of staff, Mandy, has just briefed you on the tasks for the day. You have a busy schedule that looks like this:
10:00 am – 11:00 a.m. Meeting with Speaker and Lt. Governor over H36
11:00 am – 12:00 p.m. Lunch with U.S. Senator Packer in Austin
12:15 – 12:45 p.m. Visit Govalle Elementary School in Austin
1:00 – 3:00 p.m. Travel time to San Antonio
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Meeting with Region 18 Council of Governments (COG) on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funding in San Antonio
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Travel time back to Austin
5:45 – 7:00 p.m. Dinner reception for Teacher of the Year in Austin
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. Debriefing and phone conference with campaign staff
Click on the choices given below to make your decision.
The lieutenant governor and the Speaker of the House have asked that you reconsider your opposition to a bill that would create a pilot voucher program for public education in Texas. They have informed you that there is significant public support for this legislation, and in light of the budget constraints this year, this will provide an alternative for families who are stuck in low-performing schools. This bill is still in committee, but its chair has expressed a willingness to let it die there in light of your opposition. A discharge petition could force it to the floor for a vote, and there would be sufficient support to pass it. But the House and Senate leadership would prefer to have your support.
Essentially, the bill creates a pilot voucher program within the six largest school districts in Texas (Dallas ISD, Ft. Worth ISD, Northside ISD, Houston ISD, Austin ISD and El Paso ISD) and will allow children who attend poor-performing schools to request the total expenditure (local, state, and federal contribution) as a voucher to move to another public or private institution. The accepting institution must charge the standard rate of tuition. It may not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, religious affiliation, or physical ability. This bill, however, will cause a significant fiscal impact within those affected school districts because of lost funding.
What do you do?
A: Assure both that you will reconsider your opinion
This is the safer choice to make. You have not made any promises per se, but you also have not alienated the two most powerful politicians in the legislature. Agreeing to reconsider your position will show your savvy in working with the legislature.
B: Tell them both that you will not change your mind on the issue
11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Senator Packer has flown to Texas to give a commencement speech at the University of Texas and while in town has requested a lunch meeting with you. Senator Packer informs you that there is serious talk in D.C. about another round of base closures, and he is not sure there will be much he and the other senator can do to stop it. He requested that the committee allow each of the senators an opportunity to consult their respective states on the issue before any bases are targeted. He would like your office to formulate a financial impact study to ensure that wherever the cuts are made, they will have the smallest effect. He needs a financial impact study completed as soon as possible, and the legislature will need to be apprised as soon as the cuts are finalized.
Which do you do?
A: Consult with all the legislators who have bases before making suggestions to Senator Packer
This is the wise choice, because it will allow legislators to best assess the impact cuts will have on their constituents. It will also allow them time to develop ideas for minimizing the effect of base closures in their districts, as well as minimize the political fallout for them and yourself.
B: Make suggestions to your office staff and allow them to formalize a financial impact study on the bases you have chosen to target for cuts
You arrive at Govalle Elementary School in Austin and are greeted by Ms. Sheene, who is the principle. She will be taking you to the third- and fifth-grade classes to visit with the teachers and children. Govalle Elementary was recently rated “improvement needed” by the Texas Education Agency in their accountability study of academic performance. All of the teachers at the school have expressed concern over the school’s ratings on these tests, and your chief of staff has briefed you on potential questions you may face. After the tour is complete, you meet with the third- and fifth-grade teachers to address their concerns about the elementary school’s poor showing on the TAKS test. Ms. Childers, who is a third-grade teacher, is very concerned that Govalle’s test results will be used to both criticize teachers and close the doors of failing schools, like Govalle.
What do you say?
A: I understand your frustration with the TAKS test results and what they might mean for Govalle Elementary. Because the school performed poorly, that in no way reflects poorly on you as an educator. We are, however, looking at ways to improve the scores here at Govalle, like injecting new teachers and administrators focused on literacy and mathematics. A poor showing one year doesn’t doom a school to closure. I will be on the front line in defending public education to the U.S. Department of Education in light of these results.
B: The test is the most effective way to determine where deficiencies are present. Since many children here failed this exam, parents, taxpayers, and the government needs to know that to re-evaluate whether this school is benefiting these students.
This answer is not a politically savvy one. You have shown your callous disregard for the tribulation facing both Texas’s schools and the children. You are implying that tests are sufficient in determining who is at fault for children’s academic failures.
You arrive in San Antonio and are greeted by the chair of Region 18 Councils on Government (COG). They are having an executive meeting on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding for AIDS research. The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in San Antonio has been designated to receive the bulk of the funding, but Texas A& M in Region 12 is opposing this allocation. Chairman Knickerson has asked you to mediate this disagreement, mainly because you are an alumnus of Texas A&M.
What do you do?
A: You suggest that Texas A&M has an excellent research facility and that UTMB and A&M should split the funding.
Showing a preference to one of the two original universities in Texas is not a politically savvy move. There is no denying that alumni have a genuine preference, but where policy is concerned, impartiality is best. Both Texas A&M and UTMB will profit, as will the state and AIDS research, if more researchers are allowed to work on this project.
B: You agree that UTMB should retain funding but suggest that perhaps you can speak to the secretary of health and human services (whom you appointed) and steer some of the state funding from UTMB to A&M for AIDS research.
You return to Austin and quickly prepare for your next appointment while travelling. At 5:45 p.m. you arrive at the Convention Center. You meet Texas’s Teacher of the Year, Ms. Clayton. You all sit down and have a nice dinner, and at the end you are asked to the podium to give a speech. Your staff has prepared a speech on the state of education in Texas, and it was received warmly by the audience. At the end of the speech, you present Ms. Clayton her award and congratulate her. You both return to the head table, and Ms. Clayton asks you about your plan, mentioned in your campaign commercials, to send all high school graduates to junior college for free, as long as they maintain a B average. Specifically, she asks how we will pay for it, as you promised taxes would not be raised.
What do you do?
A: Explain to her that it is much more cost effective for taxpayers to pay for two years of college instead of five years in the state penitentiary and that any expenditure made on this plan should be considered an investment in Texas’s future.
While many educators and even some who study criminal justice might find your answer here pragmatic, people in Texas are already concerned with taxes—particularly property taxes. And with public school districts already tightly squeezed for money, revolt will not be out of the realm of possibilities if the local junior college taxing authority raises taxes to help pay for this plan. You have not chosen the more politically savvy answer and will likely face disconcerting questions from school administrators.
B: Explain to her that you don’t have all the details in front of you at the present but would happily ask your staff to send her a copy of the legislation you will ask the legislature to pass.
Just as you were settling in for sleep, the phone rings. It is the warden at the Walls Unit in Huntsville. Somehow in the course of your busy day, you managed to forget about the execution that was to take place at midnight. The warden is calling you to inform you that the Supreme Court has rejected the inmate’s appeal and the scheduled execution is to begin in one hour.
You have received significant pleas both from national and from international groups to issue a stay. All of the briefing papers you have received on this case have shown that the inmate received a fair trial; at this point, the only reason to grant a stay would be based on the religious conversion of the inmate and the reports that she no longer presents a threat to the community.
Of course, you do not make the final decision, because the state constitution requires that a majority vote on the Board of Pardons and Paroles make the recommendation for a pardon. You can, however, issue a temporary stay.
What do you do?
A: Tell the warden to initiate the execution process
B: Tell the warden that you are issuing a temporary stay
This is the more savvy decision to make. Because of Texas’s reputation of respecting capital punishment, this will allow you to use the limited formal power you have as governor to show compassion as well as resting on the relative assurance that the execution will be carried out. You know the Board of Pardons and Paroles will not likely issue a pardon as three of its members are your appointees. This board provides you the means to protect yourself politically from the reality that a majority of Texans still support the death penalty, while allowing you to minimize the national spotlight placed on you as governor.
Of course, you have experienced only a day in the life of Texas’s governor. The situations you faced generally are true to life but represent only a small slice of what a day for the executive of Texas is like.
Texas’s governor is overall a weak office, even in relation to the other branches with which it must operate. Successful governors in Texas have had colorful and powerful personalities, which has enabled them to make the most of the few formal powers allocated to them.
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A Day in the Life of the Governor of Texas
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