A Conservative Wonk Files for Texas Senate – With Extended Audio Interview

Paul Bettencourt gets down into the numbers as he sets his sights on the 2015 session

Quorum Report – The man on track to succeed Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, in the Texas Senate shares his conservatism but some might say their styles could not be more different. Just after filing for Senate District 7 on a cold and rainy day in Houston, former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt went far beyond the usual political rhetoric you hear from many conservative politicians and got down into the weeds of the Texas budget and specifically what may happen on school finance.

Bettencourt, who is now in private business as a tax advisor, describes himself as a “numbers guy,” and said that the kinds of public policy debates that could be had in the 2015 session intrigue him for lots of reasons. “It’s better to be voting on these issues rather than trying to influence other people,” Bettencourt said.

For example, he said he thinks when the dust clears on school finance, the courts will have thrown out a significant portion of the system and we’ll be in for “a major reset” of how it’s done. He expects that the way things will play out on “hold harmless” funding and Robin Hood pressure on the biggest districts – Houston and Dallas – will mean major decisions will have to be made at the capitol. “That’s something that actually I’m really interested in helping out on,” he said.

Also on education, Bettencourt said he could embrace ideas that might not be immediately seen as “conservative.” For example, he said it’s “not right” that teachers often pay out of their own pockets for supplies for their students. “I know it sounds trivial but if we’ve got good teachers spending their own money, that shouldn’t happen,” he said.  He added that the teachers he talks to certainly don’t think it’s trivial when they have to cough up an extra $20 here and there to cover expenses. “Those are the solutions I’m going to be looking for.”

On infrastructure funding, Bettencourt said that it was unwise for the ballot measures on water and transportation to be separated by a year. “People are going to be far more cranky in ’14 than they were in ’13 primarily because the insurance situation nationally is destabilized,” he said. Something that may have passed this year may not pass next year, he said.

When asked about the way the Senate itself operates as an institution, Bettencourt said that he supports taking the two-thirds rule down to 60 percent. He pointed to the recent changes of the filibuster rules in the US Senate and said the difference is in Washington they rules that said you couldn’t cut off debate until you got to 60 out of 100 vote, but here in Texas you can’t even start a floor debate until you find two-thirds support for your bill. “Any public policy solution is better than 21 votes stopping all debate,” he said. “I consider that too onerous.”

You can listen to Quorum Report’s entire interview with Bettencourt by clicking here.