Early voting continues this week for the Texas Primary Election. Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) have been contacting candidates and communicating with each other about the need for Texas Senators and Representatives who will support the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund and the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.

Recently, the Dallas Morning News featured an article about a new political action committee (PAC) called the Accountability First PAC. In an article dated February 7, 2014, authors Robert T. Garrett and David Barer state that this PAC is putting money behind certain candidates in an effort to prevent the re-election of several incumbents. Author Garrett also provided an update on the PAC via his blog earlier this week.
The blog reports:

“A new, fiscally conservative group that is trying to extend influence in Republican state House primaries has tipped its hand on which GOP incumbents it most wants to topple. All three are in North Texas.

The Accountability First PAC is spending heavily to defeat Reps. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington; Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell; and Angie Chen Button, R-Garland, according to the group’s latest report to the Texas Ethics Commission.”

It is reported in the article and the blog post that Accountability First has asked the candidates it is endorsing to “sign a pledge promising strict adherence to spending limits and opposition to tax increases.” Furthermore, it is mentioned that “signers vow that if they violate the pledge, they won’t seek re-election.”

Below is the Dallas Morning News report of Accountability First PAC support for various office seekers:

1) Tony Tinderholt, challenging Diane Patrick in House District 94, $39,319;
2) Matt Rinaldi, challenging Bennett Ratliff, in HD 115  $33,899;
3) Jared Patterson, challenging Angie Chen Button in HD 112,  $31,861;
4) Matt Beebe, challenging Speaker Joe Straus in HD 131, $11,619;
5) Justin Perryman, seeking an open Houston seat, $10,661;
6) Former Rep. Rodney Anderson, challenging Rep. Linda Harper-Brown in HD 105, $10,120;
7) Philip Eby, who wants retiring Rep. Rob Orr’s seat in Johnson and Bosque counties, $9,432;
8) Former Collin County Commissioner Matt Shaheen, seeking Van Taylor’s open seat, $8,135;
9) Ted Seago, seeking an open seat in Montgomery County, north of Houston, $8,117;
10) T.J. Fabby, who’s trying to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Pitts in HD 10, $7,883;
11) Read King, challenging Rep. Myra Crownover in Denton County’s HD 64, $7,727; and
12) Cullen Crisp, challenging Rep. Jim Keffer in west-central Texas’ HD 60, $7,470.

Why does this pledge cause concern for members of TRTA?

As many of you have read recently in our Inside Line e-newsletter, the TRS-Care health insurance program is facing a funding shortfall of $1 billion in the next biennium. The urgency of this crisis cannot be overstated.

We all want efficiencies in government, but does signing this pledge restrict potential legislators from considering options that may be needed to address our health care crisis? Is the purpose of “strict enforcement” meant to reduce funding for public schools, which also reduces funding for TRS-Care and the pension fund?

Although TRTA does not endorse candidates for political office and does not have a PAC of its own, we must be cognizant of the candidates’ positions on issues affecting TRS and our retirement benefits.

In order for the $1 billion TRS-Care shortfall to be addressed and for our retirees to maintain their vital health care program, our Legislature will have to consider increased spending as an option.

A legislator who may have a closed door policy when it comes to discussing putting more money into a program that 250,000 retirees and their dependents rely upon may be unwilling to work with TRTA to resolve this crisis.

We simply do not know the official stance regarding TRS-Care and the TRS fund of each candidate supported by Accountability First or any other pledge-restricting PAC donor.

TRTA respects our members’ involvement in the political process. This organization strives to work with ALL elected officials. Our record in the Texas Legislature is one of strength in supporting our members’ interests and working in the legislative process to benefit all public education retirees.

However, there is a BIG difference between the legislative process and the POLITICAL process.Right now, we are discussing the political process. Office seekers want your vote. We will need their help and support during the legislative process. If they are ruling out helping TRS retirees during the political process, there may be little to no incentive for them to work with us during the legislative process.

We need you. PLEASE contact these office seekers directly and ask if they have made a pledge to any organization that limits their ability to vote for increased funding for our retiree health care program!

If you cannot reach the candidate you want to speak to directly, ask their campaign staff to answer your questions or to get an answer for you from the candidate. Your vote is the most powerful tool in BOTH the political process and the legislative process. If a candidate for office wants your vote, you need to know if they will unequivocally support your interests next legislative session.

We also encourage you to talk to your fellow TRTA members and ask them who they are voting for and why. Click here to see more information about TRTA’s vast statewide local unit network. Use www.google.com to search for a candidate and his or her website and to locate contact information.

If you are considering supporting one of these candidates, it is important that you find out what his or her position is regarding funding the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.The Texas Tribune Elections Bracket can help you determine who is running for office in your area.

Empower yourself with this knowledge, and be sure you VOTE IN THIS PRIMARY ELECTION!YOUR VOTE MATTERS. Even a handful of votes can sway the results of a Primary Election. TRTA, with its nearly 80,000 members, has the ability to influence elections if all our members cast their votes!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA! Remember, you are a valued member of our organization, and your vote in the Primary Election is also valuable! Use your power and vote! If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, contact us at 1.800.880.1650.