Despite its flaws, America is great
Strama, a moderate Democrat, said he was impressed by the fact that the students said others who had made similar trips to the United States were routinely jailed upon returning home.
He asked why they come on the trips anyway. Because it’s necessary to learn how an ideal democracy like America’s works, they responded.
Strama, 42, is no newcomer to politics and elections. Before beating an incumbent Republican in 2004 in a district in north Austin and northern suburbs, Strama participated in Democrat Ann Richards’ campaign for governor in 1990, was a Texas state senator’s aide for five years, and ran the Rock the Vote effort for MTV in 1996, trying to get students to vote. He developed the first Internet voter registration system.
He told the visiting Venezuelan students that before they decided the American system was so ideal, they should hear a story about a recent presidential election.
One candidate was the outgoing vice-president of the United States. He had been a United States senator before that, and was the son of a former senator.
The other candidate was the sitting governor of Texas, the second most populous state in the country. He also was the son of a former president of the United States, and the brother of the governor of Florida, the fourth most populous state.
Within the family, it had always been assumed that the brother who was governor of Florida would have been the one to run for president. Instead, it was his older brother who ran.
The election is very close, and the vice-president leads by about half a million popular votes. But in the all-important electoral vote, in which all of a state’s electoral votes go to the winner in every state but two, the election is very close. It comes down to being decided in Florida, where the governor of Texas leads by a few hundred votes.
The Florida secretary of state, Katherine Harris, oversees the vote-counting process. She also cochairs the campaign of the son of the president, in the state where his brother is the governor.
Some, but not all, of the ballots are counted and re-counted. The difference remains a few hundred votes, of close to 6 million cast – significantly less than the statistical margin of error. There are appeals and motions from both sides on several different issues, to just about every court imaginable.
Almost three weeks after the election, Secretary of State Harris certifies that the governor’s brother won the election by 537 votes. That ruling is challenged by the vice-president, who contends the recounting process left out some important areas. The case goes to the United States Supreme Court.
The court, on a 5-4 vote split along party lines, refuses to extend the deadline for certification, or to help devise a remedy for the questioned votecounting process. The court in effect rules that the Florida governor’s brother won the election, and the presidency.
By this time, Strama has the Venezuelan students on the edge of their chairs.
“And then you know what happened?” Strama asked dramatically.
“What?” the students asked excitedly.
Strama paused. “Nothing,” he said.
The vice-president conceded the election, Strama explained, and the president’s son prepares for the inauguration. The outgoing vice-president who won the popular vote but, according to the high court lost the electoral vote, is on the stage a month later with the outgoing president, while the new president and vice-president take the oath of office.
There is no gunfire, no refusal to abide by the results of the process, no attempt by the vice-president to hole up in the White House and refuse to leave.
“That would never happen in our country,” one of the students says.
“That,” Strama says, “is what makes this a great country.”
Constitutional Change . . . . Early voting is already under way in advance of the Nov. 3 election on 11 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution.
Getting by far the most attention is Proposition 4. It would transfer $425 million from one state fund into a fund that would serve as development capital for seven public universities, to help them achieve Tier One status as research institutions.
Texas currently has just three such universities: The University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Rice University, a private institution. California has nine, New York seven.
Tier One universities are seen as significant magnets for research grants, and as incubators for innovative spinoffs that help fuel economic and intellectual growth. They also would help keep thousands of top Texas students from having to go to other states because their state doesn’t have enough topnotch universities to accommodate them.
Among those leading the public relations campaign for the amendment is former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, who later served as chancellor of the University of Houston.
That university and six others – Texas Tech, the University of North Texas, and Universities of Texas at Arlington, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso – would be eligible to try to qualify for money from the fund.
For more information on that amendment and the other 10, go to http://www.hro.house.state.tx.us/focus/ amend81.pdf.