TEXAS VIEW: Avoid electioneering on taxpayers’ dime

By Denton Record-Chronicle

We are closely following Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s warnings to public school employees that electioneering on the public’s dime is illegal.

Public school administrators and teachers, including Denton Independent School District Superintendent Jamie Wilson, fear that Paxton and other conservative Republicans are attempting to starve public schools of funding needed to educate 5.5 million students in Texas.

Now, during an election year, Paxton is sending cease-and-desist letters to school districts, warning them that using taxpayer-supplied smartphones and computers to advocate for or against specific candidates is illegal.

Unfortunately, some district administrators have done just that. And it’s wrong.

The state’s 1,025 school districts (excluding charter schools) employ an estimated 650,000 people across the state. About 50 percent are teachers. Most of them lean toward the Democratic Party, who oppose proposals to siphon state funding away from public schools through a voucher system that would send more students to private schools.

School district employees, when viewed as a monolithic voting bloc, are considered a problem in conservative Republican circles led by Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. School districts are the largest employers in many rural communities, and lawmakers pay attention to their wants and needs.

We understand on a practical level why Paxton wants to suppress political activity among school district employees who lean Democratic. But all political activity is not the same. Let’s dissect it.

Encouraging citizens to vote is as American as apple pie. School teachers and administrators are on safe ground when they urge anyone 18 or older to vote. But trouble arises when they use taxpayer-funded equipment to advocate during business hours for a specific public school-friendly candidate.

School superintendents and their employees should not so much as send a retweet encouraging people to vote for a certain candidate. They shouldn’t “like” any candidate’s Facebook posting. And they should not use school district letterhead or lend their names to candidate endorsements.

Any of those transgressions gives the Paxton crowd grounds to conduct a voter suppression campaign using the power of the attorney general’s office.

Paxton is the state’s top law enforcement officer. When he sends a threatening letter to a school district administrator, it’s serious business. And it’s political. He wants Republicans to win elections in 2018.

We urge public school employees to be careful. They should avoid electioneering while simultaneously stepping up their efforts to encourage everyone to vote, including 18-year-old high school seniors.