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Schieffer: Focus more on education
July 2, 2009

Texas needs more work on public education and less focus on narrow party goals, a former U.S. ambassador for the Bush administration and democratic gubernatorial candidate said Wednesday.

Written by Elliott Blackburn, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal


Texas needs more work on public education and less focus on narrow party goals, a former U.S. ambassador for the Bush administration and democratic gubernatorial candidate said Wednesday.

Tom Schieffer said he would focus on opening up foreign markets and reforming the state's public education system to keep Texas competitive in a fast-paced global economy as he stopped in Lubbock for a West Texas sweep kicking off his campaign for the governor's job.

Schieffer, the younger brother of CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and an ambassador to Japan and Australia for former president George W. Bush, announced last week he would run for governor. He is a native and resident of Fort Worth.

He could face Mark Thompson, a Garland resident who made an unsuccessful bid for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, and Austin humorist and political independent Kinky Friedman in a 2010 Democrat primary.

Schieffer favored expanding early education opportunities and after-school programs to combat the state's high school dropout rates. Texas needs a long-term approach to education that incorporated bigger roles for community colleges and universities like Texas Tech, he said.

"The world economy is increasingly a knowledge-based economy, and if we're not a knowledge-based Texas, we're not going to compete," Schieffer said.

Pre-kindergarten programs and coordinated after-school activities could help keep students interested in their education through a full academic career, he said.

More than 11 percent of students in the graduating class of 2007 dropped out, according to the latest Texas Education Agency figures. In Lubbock, 3.3 percent of all students in the same class had not completed high school by August 2008.

"There are ways that we can enhance the public education system that don't necessarily involve more money but involve more innovation," Schieffer said.

He criticized Texas' opposition to expanding children's health insurance benefits, calling it a tax shift to counties whose hospitals would have to give expensive treatments to preventable health problems.

Schieffer's diplomatic experience, especially lobbying Japan to resume imports of beef after a mad cow scare, would help improve market access for Texas agriculture, he said. Texas growers needed more opportunities to feed and clothe the rest of the world, he said.

"We cannot be order-takers in Texas," Schieffer said. "We have to be salesmen."

Schieffer had not made any decisions on how the state should regulate or manage water. He continued to stress improved technology as a solution to future drinking water needs and said the state's resources must be used "as efficiently as possible."

"We don't want water to be the limiting factor in growth," Schieffer said.

But he did not say whether that meant the state needed additional control over groundwater, currently owned by whoever can bring the resource to the surface.

Schieffer, a partner with Bush in owning the Texas Rangers baseball team, was a contributor to the former president's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and held his diplomatic posts as part of his administration.

He called himself a lifelong Democrat who served the country, not a party, as ambassador, he said. Politicians need to focus less on their parties and more on the problems facing the state, he said.

"I believe in a big tent Democratic party," Schieffer said. "I think our politics in general have become too narrow in the last few years."

Schieffer includes former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, among his core campaign supporters.

Lubbock County Democratic Party chairwoman Pam Brink said local Democrats liked his focus on education and children's health care.

She did not consider prior ties to Bush a major issue for Lubbock Democrats.

"I think he's got to answer some questions on that, but I don't think he's going to have any problems with it," Brink said. "This is Texas. We all know each other."

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