In Politics, Judged By The Company We Keep

20140227-OE30000227-OEThose of us in everyday life are known by the company we keep.

People in political life are known by the money they accept.

This election cycle there’s a new group on the Texas landscape that’s been spreading around campaign cash to a slate of Republican candidates who were asked to sign a six-point pledge — kind of a purity test — hewing to the group’s hard line against spending and taxes.

That may sound familiar and innocent enough, almost like famed crusader Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge. But there’s this big difference: The new Texas outfit, Accountability First, funded mostly by a short list of wealthy businessmen, also has been busy spreading around money trying to defeat school bond propositions on local ballots across Texas.

The idea of outside cash meddling in local affairs has rubbed a lot of school boosters the wrong way — with good reason. Local control would seem to be a conservative ideal worth protecting. But candidates backed by the Accountability First PAC, most of whom are challenging incumbents, have been content to look the other way about efforts to sway local elections.

This newspaper’s editorial board interviewed several GOP candidates supported by the new PAC and asked them about taking money from a group that tried to juice the “no” vote on school bond packages. It was as if we had asked about the gravitational pull on Mars. Accountability First candidates said they knew nothing about all that. Consider us skeptical.

Accountability First is political kin to the well-established Empower Texans PAC and its sister organization, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, keeper of scorecards that rate the alleged conservatism of state lawmakers. It’s a scorecard whose expectations are telegraphed in advance of votes. Some GOP lawmakers toe the line for fear of a bad showing when the grades come out.

Call it governing by litmus test. We prefer lawmakers who can think for themselves. We prefer them answerable to the voters, not a scorekeeper.

One target of litmus test groups this year appears to be House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio. Several of his House allies have drawn primary-election opponents backed by Accountability First money. That should concern Texans who want a fearless search for ways to address the demands of Texas’ swelling population.

Straus has been a careful, solutions-oriented leader whose lieutenants steep themselves in policy, not ideology. Meeting the core needs of education, transportation and water requires an expansive examination of potential solutions. Talking points won’t do.

Beware the candidate who reflexively suggests the state’s needs can be addressed solely by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse and by employing zero-based budgeting. Beware the bromides. They may sound good on the campaign trail, but they would have little value when innovative ideas for governing need to be on the table.

Accountability First slate

These North Texas House GOP primary races feature candidates backed by the new PAC.

House District 64 — Read King vs. incumbent Myra Crownover

House District 66 — Matt Shaheen for open seat vs. Glenn Callison and Stacy Chen

House District 94 — Tony Tinderholt vs. incumbent Diane Patrick

House District 105 — Rodney Anderson vs. incumbent Linda Harper-Brown

House District 108 — Court Alley for open seat vs. Morgan Meyer and Chart Westcott

House District 112 — Jared Patterson vs. incumbent Angie Chen Button

House District 115 — Matt Rinaldi vs. incumbent Bennett Ratliff