America deserves more than Bush’s Texas

It would be premature to conclude that Texas Gov. George W. Bush will win next year’s presidential nomination. There is still one year remaining before the election, in which circumstances could certainly change. Occasionally, though not often, front-runners have been unable to maintain their substantial leads over long election periods.
However, Bush’s poll numbers have remained high for the several months since he announced his candidacy. Poll results continue to place Bush far ahead of Republican or Democratic competitors. And through this time, information incriminating enough to reduce his popularity has not been exposed.
But if the voters more thoroughly examined the quality of life in the state of Texas, Bush’s continued success might change. Such an evaluation of Texas would offer the most reliable portent to what a George W. presidency might be like.
Such an evaluation would also reveal that Bush’s Texas has a lot of problems.
Texas is not only absent from the top of almost all the state rankings of healthy characteristics, but it ranks worse than most states in measurements of bad characteristics.
(Minnesota, incidentally, ranks at the top of most comparisons among states. According to one study, Minnesota has been ‘the most livable state’ for the past three years. Minnesota’s “unbeatable performance across the board in education, health, low unemployment … and other factors gives it an edge over its sister states. Once again, the North Star State shines above them all.”)
In a 1998 comparison of overall livability of each of the states, Texas placed 40th. In other indices measuring several qualities important to livability, Texas is among the worst states. In measurements of education, health, crime, the economy and the environment, Texas consistently performs at the bottom.
The quality of education in Texas is among the poorest of any state, despite the fact that its education expenditures by the state and local governments is third in the nation, at over $25 billion annually. And despite the fact that its overall expenditures on public schools per capita rank 10th, its average teachers’ salaries are 38th in the nation, and its pupil-teacher ratio is 34th.
It ranks second highest in persons with less than nine years of education. Its high-school graduation rate is 44th, and it is 45th in percentage of its population with high-school diplomas.
The test scores of its residents are similarly low. The average ACT score of Texans is 40th in the nation, and the average SAT scores places them at 45th. One reason for these poor scores could be the low rate of public libraries. Texas ranks 45th, with one library for every 25,000 residents.
In measurements of health care, Texas is also unable to provide adequate services for its residents. The percentage of Texans not covered by health care is 24.5 percent, the second-worst in the nation. This despite the fact that Texas has the third largest number of Medicaid recipients and the fourth largest number of residents enrolled in Medicare. It is ranked 39th in the number of physicians per resident, with 1.9 physicians per 1,000 residents. It is ranked 46th in the number of nurses per residents, with 6.5 per every 1,000 residents.
Texas’ justice system is probably the most unfortunate example of Bush’s poor leadership, and his unsurpassed ability to be cruel, despite his protestations of ‘compassion.’ Judges, who are elected, assign lawyers to indigent defendants, and determine the fees they will charge. Often defense attorneys are assigned based upon the amount of money they contributed to a judge’s campaign. The defense attorneys’ loyalties are therefore not to the defendants, but to the presiding judges. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, “in recent years the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld death sentences in at least three cases in which the defense lawyers slept during trial.”
Crime statistics reveal disturbing figures about Texas’ penal system. Texas has the highest state prison incarceration rate. It has the second highest number of prisoners under sentence of death — 438 — totaling almost one of every seven death-row inmates in the United States. It has the highest number of adults on state parole, totaling almost one of every five state parolees in the United States.
Texas has the third-highest crime rate of any state, with 1,065,357 crimes committed in 1997. In that year, it ranked fourth in violent crimes, with 117,126, and second in murders, with 1,327. Texas has the second-highest number of rapes, with 8,011, the third-largest number of aggravated assaults, the third-largest number of burglaries and the fifth-largest number of robberies. It has the second-largest amount of state and local employees in corrections — almost 10 percent of the U.S. total — and it ranks third in state and local expenditures for corrections, again almost 10 percent of the U.S. total.
The economy of Texas is also unhealthy. The amount of state and local governmental debt is third in the nation, a total of over $65 billion. The state minimum wage rate is fourth from the bottom, at $3.35 an hour. The number of residents below the poverty level is ranked seventh, and about one in four of its public-school children live in poverty. It has the fourth largest number of bankruptcy filings.
Texas’ environment is one of the dirtiest. Gov. Bush has allowed corporations to bypass environmental regulations for their profits, and the results are already evident. Its energy consumption is first in the nation, totaling 10,512 trillion btu’s, an amount 25 percent higher than the second-ranked state. It is also first in the amount of pollution released by manufacturing plants, releasing over 267 million pounds of pollutants in the most recent year, an amount that is fully 83 million pounds more than the second-ranked state.
Bush’s dismal record in Texas doesn’t represent his inabilities as a leader or his impotence at improving the state. Rather, they represent his priorities. These are clearly illustrated by his efforts to ensure that the justice system remains full of nepotism and that polluters improve their profits.
He is skilled, though, at being an opportunistic son of a former president and at using his connections for gain he otherwise wouldn’t deserve.
Like our own governor, Bush might be victorious although his previous record was not ideal. But Ventura’s victory was partially credited to a free ride by the media. Bush’s victory will only be credited to a free ride by the voters.

Dan Maruska’s column appears on alternate Fridays. He welcomes comments at [email protected].