In an unexpected move, the board of the Harris County Department of Education voted to end a taxpayer-funded lobbying contract with HillCo, the department’s longtime lobbyists.
Colleen Vera with Texas Trash Talk first reported the news, as she has long covered the goings-on of HCDE.
“In total surprise for Harris County taxpayers, the Board voted to cancel their $220,000 a year lobbying contract with HillCo.” Vera writes that HCDE Superintendent James Colbert argued in favor of maintaining the contract “because he is too busy with his job at HCDE to pay attention to the legislature.”
Colbert complained that without the contract, it makes it hard for him to advocate on behalf of the district and “compromises the existence of the department.”
The superintendent even went as far as to name State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R–Houston) as a reason for needing the lobbying contract.
“Senator Bettencourt has publicly, on Fox News, stated that he will put a bill out once again this year,” said Colbert. “He has been the author of many of our bills in the past.” Colbert was referencing bills to abolish the district, legislation widely celebrated by Harris County taxpayers despite not being passed into law.
In addition to Colbert’s comments on the dire need for lobbyists, what was perhaps more alarming were his vague remarks on what they actually do:
“I’ll give a broad base, I like to fly at 40,000 feet when it comes to that, I don’t like to share the playbook with the public. It defeats the purpose,” said Colbert when asked by a board member to clarify what specific services HillCo provided the district.
It should come as no surprise that the superintendent doesn’t want the public to know what they are paying for — because if they did, they would know they are funding lobbyists to lobby against their interests.
Trustee Don Sumners reportedly wrote the agenda item to cancel the contract.
“Finally, we had the votes to get rid of HillCo,” he said on social media. “We had tried twice before without success. Having Josh elected made the difference.”
Josh Flynn is the newly elected trustee and one of the vocal supporters of cancelling the contract.
“It’s just the fact that we’re spending money for a lobbyist with taxpayer dollars to lobby against the taxpayer,” Flynn said. “I would say it is incumbent upon us as trustees to talk to our legislators: if something comes up, we talk to them, we strategize with them, that’s our job. We don’t need to farm it out.”
Trustee Mike Wolfe, one of the signers of the agenda request, also voiced his support.
“We don’t need the contract, and using taxpayer money for lobbyists is against the Republican Party platform in Texas, besides the fact that it’s just wrong,” said Wolfe.
Trustees Mike Wolfe, Josh Flynn, Don Sumners, and George Moore all voted to end the contract, while Republican Trustee Eric Dick voted to keep it.
“Just having this on the agenda is probably a mistake,” said Dick. “What it does is it signals to employees that they might be losing their job … I’d also note that there’s this push: ‘don’t hire lobbyists’. And that’s the most hypocritical push I’ve ever heard. The Republican Party hires lobbyists, the Democrat party hires lobbyists, every freaking elected person hires lobbyists… It’s propaganda being pushed.”
Taxpayers are certainly better off without paying more than $200,000 annually to have their government lobby against their own interests.
In response to the move, State Rep. Mayes Middleton (R–Wallisville), who has filed a bill to ban government entities from hiring lobbyists, said, “Any time taxpayer money is no longer used to hire lobbyists to work against their own interests, it’s a good thing.”
Hopefully the move by HCDE lends additional support to the legislative effort.
Video of the meeting, courtesy of Texas Trash Talk, can be seen below: