Tag Archives: Ross Perot

Ross Perot: This man stood tall

My journalism career enabled me to cross paths with a lot of interesting, provocative and even great people over the length of its time. I want to include Ross Perot as being among the great individuals I had the pleasure to meet.

Perot died today of leukemia. He was 89 years of age. He died peacefully in Dallas, where he built his fortune and lived most of his adult life.

He wouldn’t have remembered me had anyone thought to ask. But I surely remember the time I had the pleasure of meeting him and visiting with him about one of his pet issues in that moment: the quality of public education.

He had mouthed off about how Texas was more interested in producing blue-chip athletes than blue-chip students. The Texas governor at the time, the late Mark White, challenged Perot to craft a better education system for Texas. Perot took up the challenge and led the Perot Commission to create a system that set certain achievement standards for all Texas public school students.

He then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to pitch his findings to business leaders, politicians, civic leaders and, yes, media representatives; I was among the media types Perot met.

He came to Beaumont and delivered a stemwinder of a speech to a roomful of the city’s movers and shakers.

As an editorial writer and editor for the Beaumont Enterprise, I had the high honor of meeting later with Perot along with other media reps at Lamar University.

That was in 1984. Little did we know at the time he would become a political force of nature as well, running for president twice in 1992 and 1996. At one time prior to the 1992 fall election, Perot actually led public opinion polling that included President George H.W. Bush and a young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton.

He finished third that year. Clinton got elected. Bush served his single term and disliked Perot for the rest of his life, blaming him for losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. President Bush is gone now, but my own view is that Perot — contrary to popular notions — did not deprive a chance at re-election. He took roughly the same number of votes from both Bush and Clinton, meaning that Bill Clinton was going to win the election anyway.

Still, Ross Perot was a player, although he was prone at times to acting a little squirrely. He also was a patriot who loved his country and gave back many millions of dollars of his immense personal wealth to make his community and country better.

I am grateful beyond measure that his path crossed mine if only for a brief moment in time. Take my word for it, this man made a serious impression on those he met along the way.

Time of My Life, Part 11: This banty rooster stood tall

There once was a time when public figures embraced the attention of newspaper editorial boards, of those who sought to help guide their communities’ future.

I was able to play a small part in that relationship. One such figure thrust himself onto the Texas public stage by popping off about what he saw as the abysmal quality of public education in the state.

I had the chance to meet this man up close. Man, what a time!

H. Ross Perot built a fortune in technology. In 1983, he sounded off publicly about his belief that Texas was more interested in turning out more “blue chip athletes” than “blue chip scholars.” He lamented the poor quality of public education in Texas.

Gov. Mark White picked up the challenge that Perot implied and said, in effect: OK, buster, if you think you can develop a better plan for educating our kids, I’ll appoint you to a commission to lead that effort.

Perot accepted the challenge and led the Perot Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of business and civic leaders and educators.

I arrived in Texas in the spring of 1984 to write editorials for the Beaumont Enterprise. Not long after I took my post, Perot issued his report to the public. His recommendation, in short, called for standardized testing of public school students; it set a minimum standard for passing before students could advance to the next grade. The plan included a provision known as “no pass-no play,” meaning that if a student didn’t maintain a 70 percent academic average he or she would be ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities.

Perot then launched a statewide barnstorming tour to sell the plan to a public that had never seen or heard such a thing. Perot came to Beaumont to speak to a group of civic leaders.

Let me just say this about H. Ross Perot: The man is able to totally command a room despite his short stature. I had never been in the presence of someone who had that kind of charisma. The room was mesmerized by his presentation. He made a tremendous pitch selling the merits of the plan he would propose to the Legislature.

Later, after his talk, I got invited to meet with Perot along with a handful of other media representatives. We gathered at the John Gray Institute on the Lamar University campus in south Beaumont. I wasn’t exactly star-struck by the man, but he certainly did impress me with the detail he was able to deliver with his pitch.

Gov. White called the Legislature into special session later that year and it approved House Bill 72, which enacted the public education reforms recommended by the Perot Commission.

Yes, indeed, those were the days when public officials didn’t view the press as the “enemy of the people.” They sought us out, answered our questions forthrightly and enabled us to report on — and comment on — the content of their ideas.

Bush 41’s legacy contains considerable irony

George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency was cut short by perhaps one of the more ironic twists of political fate in recent U.S. history.

President Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was elected in 1988 and sought re-election in 1992. He was victimized by the wisdom of a decision to back away from an ill-considered promise delivered from the podium of the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

“Read my lips,” the then-vice president intoned at the ’88 GOP convention, “no new taxes.” The crowd erupted. They cheered. They whooped and hollered.

But wait! After he took office in 1989, the economy began to slow down. It fell into a fairly deep recession. What was the president going to do about it? He retracted his “no new taxes” pledge and got Congress to do the very thing he said he wouldn’t do . . . ever!

The 1990 deficit reduction act proved to be a fiscally sound — and politically dangerous — policy decision. It created a rebellion among the Republican Party caucus in Congress. As USA Today noted in its editorial, the measure laid the groundwork for the budget surpluses that would follow.

The irony of it is that the economy began sputtering back to life in early 1992. By then the die had been cast, to Bush’s ultimate dismay. The Democrats ran a young governor, Bill Clinton, against him. Then in jumped the Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot to muddy it up some more.

Clinton was elected in 1992. Bush blamed Perot for costing him re-election, but in truth Clinton was likely to win without a third candidate in the contest.

President Bush’s decision to renege on his tax pledge — if only modestly — proved to be his undoing. The voters rendered a harsh, and arguably unfair, decision in 1992. They said a promise made from a convention podium should be as good as gold.

It saddens me as I look back on that time.

It also saddens me that another decision, to end the Persian Gulf War without toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, led to a horrendous decision by one of Bush 41’s successors, his own son, President George W. Bush.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. President Bush declared the aggressive “will not stand.” He went to the United Nations, gathered up an international alliance of nations, directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to craft a strategy to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait. Then we went to war.

It ended quickly. The Iraqis fled from the mighty onslaught led by U.S. forces. Then the commander in chief made the decision to end it. Mission accomplished. The Iraqis had been tossed out. Saddam Hussein remained in power.

But the decision to end the war, to keep faith with the U.N. resolution authorizing it resulted in total containment of Iraq and of Saddam Hussein. There appeared to be a semblance of stability settling in the region.

But then Bush left office. Bill Clinton served two terms and he left office in 2001. We got hit by the terrorists on 9/11, and President Bush 43 sent us to war against the terrorists.

Then, for reasons that still baffle many of us, President Bush decided to topple Saddam Hussein. We invaded Iraq in March 2003. We captured Saddam Hussein, put him on trial and executed him. We were looking for weapons of mass destruction, but didn’t find any.

The question persists to this day: Why did we go to war against Saddam Hussein? Yes, I know international intelligence agencies said the Iraqis possessed WMD. They were tragically wrong.

Oh, the stability that Bush 41 forged with his decision to not invade Iraq? It was gone. The Islamic State emerged from the chaos. We’re still at war.

History has delivered some judgments already on Bush 41’s presidency. I trust historians will take note of the irony that befell this good man’s time as leader of the world’s greatest nation.

Wait for the big announcement; it’s coming soon

080712-N-3285B-007 MAYPORT, Fla. (July 12, 2008) Adm. James Stavridis, commander, U.S. Southern Command, speaks at the 4th Fleet reestablishment ceremony held on board Naval Station Mayport. Fourth Fleet is the reassigned numbered fleet assigned to NAVSO, exercising operational control of assigned forces. Fourth Fleet conducts the full spectrum of Maritime Security Operations in support of U.S. objectives and security cooperation activities that promote coalition building and deter aggression in the maritime environment.  U.S. Navy photo Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Regina L. Brown (Released)

The cat’s out of the bag.

No. Not that cat. Not the big one, which would involve the announcement of just who Hillary Rodham Clinton will choose as her running mate in the upcoming presidential election.

The cat to which I refer is the timing of the announcement.

It’s coming Saturday. Clinton will be in Florida — one of those crucial “swing states” — where she’s expected to declare the name of her vice-presidential pick.

Frankly, I had hoped she’d do it on Friday, a single day after the Republican National Convention had adjourned for the next four years.

Timing could be everything for the next VP selection

Reports are flying that Clinton wants to stress “national security” in her pick. More reports are flying that such an emphasis has elevated a retired Navy admiral’s standing in her hunt for the perfect No. 2.

James Stavridis might get the call. Or it might go to Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Or it could be Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack of Iowa.

Admiral Stavridis has no political experience. He does have a boatload — yes, the pun is intended — of national security experience. He’s a strategic thinker and someone who has worked with Clinton at the State¬†Department.

The last¬†general-grade officer to serve on a national ticket was the¬†late Admiral James Stockdale, who in 1992 ran with independent candidate ¬†H. Ross Perot. You’ll remember Stockdale asking — rhetorically, I presume — “Why am I here?” during the VP debate that year. The¬†question has endured as a punch line, sadly besmirching the reputation of¬†a¬†man who, like John¬†McCain, served heroically as a prison of war in North Vietnam.

That was then. The here and now gives the Democratic presidential nominee a chance to steal a whole lot of thunder from the Republicans.

We appear to be ready to learn the name of the Democrats’ vice-presidential pick on Saturday.

If not sooner.

Get ready for record low turnout … possibly


John Ellis Bush likely spoke for a lot of Americans over the weekend.

He doesn’t like Donald J. Trump and he won’t vote for him for president. Nor does he trust Hillary Rodham Clinton, so she won’t get his vote, either.

Bush — aka “Jeb” — is quite likely going to leave the top of his ballot blank when the time comes for him to vote.

He said it “breaks my heart” that he cannot support the Republican Party nominee, Trump. But he and the presumptive GOP nominee have some history that Bush cannot set aside.

Bush told MSBNC’s Nicolle Wallace — a former communications director for President George W.¬† Bush — that Trump has conducted what amounts to a successful mutiny of the Republican Party. He praises the real estate mogul/TV celebrity for winning the party nomination fair and square. Trump, though, did it by tapping into¬†a voter sentiment¬†that none of the other GOP candidates — including Jeb Bush — could locate.

This makes me think my earlier prediction of a potentially record-low-turnout election might not be too far off the mark.

The current record belongs to the 1996 contest that saw President Bill Clinton re-elected over Bob Dole and Ross Perot with just a 49 percent turnout of eligible voters.

Now we have polling data that tell us Hillary Clinton and Trump are profoundly disliked by most voters. FBI Director James Comey’s stunning critique of Clinton’s handling of classified information on her personal e-mail server has only heightened voters’ mistrust of her … and to think that the director then said he wouldn’t recommend criminal charges be brought against her!

As for Trump, well, I won’t weigh in here. You know how much I despise that guy.

Jeb Bush won’t attend the GOP convention. Neither will his brother and father — two former presidents. Nor will Mitt Romney or John McCain, the party’s two most recent presidential nominee.

Oh, and the governor of the state where the convention will take place? Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another former Republican presidential candidate, won’t darken the door at the Cleveland arena where delegates are going to nominate Donald Trump.

Let’s face the daunting reality that a lot of Americans just might follow Jeb’s lead and stay home.

Trump and Perot? No comparison

Electronic Data Systems, Perot Systems PER "There will be a giant sucking sound going south." √ĎPerot on the North American Free Trade Agreement during a 1992 Presidential debate Perot made billions as a businessman, founded Electronic Data Systems EDS and Perot Systems, and took 19% of the popular vote as a Presidential candidate in 1992. But, much as he chose Patsy Cline's "Crazy" as the theme song them for his White House bid, Perot may be best remembered for his colorful behavior. ¬• When two EDS employees were imprisoned in Iran in 1979 by the Shah of Iran prior to the Revolution, Perot funded and organized a successful rescue effort with all the trappings of a spy novel. ¬• In 1969, Perot tried unsuccessfully to deliver 75 tons of food and gifts to American prisoners of war being held in North Vietnam. ¬• When valued employees left his company, Perot would erase their names from any awards or plaques hanging in headquarters.

Have I been asleep at the wheel or has the political punditry class been quiet about comparing this election’s billionaire businessman/candidate with the previous guy who fit that description?

Donald J. Trump is about to become — more than likely — the next Republican nominee for president. He will face a candidate named Clinton, as in Hillary.

Twenty-four years ago another billionaire businessman ran for president against the first Clinton, the one named Bill — and against the Republican president, George H.W. Bush.

Yeah, the 1992 campaign had its quirks, such as when Perot quit the race only to re-enter it later. But¬†it wasn’t nearly as, um, quirky as this one has been so far.

H. Ross Perot ended up winning 19 percent of the popular vote as an independent candidate. Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43 percent of the total, compared to President Bush’s 38 percent. Clinton, though, won the Electoral College vote in a landslide.

I’d like to be one of the few today to say that Perot did not cost Bush the election. Bill Clinton would have won the 1992 race with or without Perot in the mix.

Are there more comparisons to make between Perot and Trump?

Sure. Both men have huge egos. Perot, though, has been married to the same woman for a very long time; Trump is married to Wife No. 3. Perot’s wealth is of the self-made variety; Trump got a y-u-u-u-g-e head start from his dad’s estate.

Here’s another point to make, one that I’d like to concentrate on for just a moment. Trump has zero public service experience; Perot has one significant public service chapter in his lengthy life saga.

In 1983, then-Texas Gov. Mark White appointed Perot to lead a blue-ribbon commission to reform the state’s public education system. Gov. White tapped Perot after the Dallas technology tycoon popped off about how Texas was more interested in producing blue-chip athletes than it was in producing blue-chip scholars.

Perot set about the task of leading the panel to produce some recommendations he hoped would improve student academic performance.

I arrived in Texas in 1984 and as luck would have it, Perot unveiled his commission’s plan for education reform about that time. He then went on a statewide barnstorming tour to pitch his idea to Texans.

He came to Beaumont and that’s where I laid eyes on him for the first time. Perot stood at the podium in a roomful of business executives and sold his formula for academic success. Take it from me, the diminutive dynamo could command a room.

Several of us in the media met later that day with Perot for a question-and-answer session at Lamar University. Believe this, too: The man was in complete command of his facts, details and the process that awaited him.

The Texas Legislature convened a special session later that year and produced House Bill 72. Its record has been mixed. HB 72 mandated standardized testing for students and other reforms.

The point here is that Perot at least delivered the goods while being challenged by the state’s top elected official.

Trump’s public record? It involves a reality TV show, lots of buildings with his name on them, beauty pageants and assorted failed business ventures.

His public service record to date has brought us a string of insults, innuendo and invective.

The similarities? They’re both rich and full of themselves.

Teaching to the test, 2.0


I never cease being amazed how some issues and concerns never seem to go away.

They hang around so long that you’d think they would get moldy, would wither and just disappear like so much dust.

Back to the Earth.

But they don’t. They linger. Forever and ever.

Standardized tests and the concerns about how Texas educators administer them remains a hot topic.

Seven years ago, on April 13, 2009 to be exact, I wrote a blog about Texas’s standardized testing regimen that went by a different name.

Here’s what I wrote then:


Another school year is drawing to its conclusion. The Texas Legislature will convene next January for its biennial 140-day bloodletting.

Teachers are still complaining about the current form of standardized tests they must give to their students. Parents gripe about them, too. I’m betting students — particularly those who don’t test well — also are complaining.

You’ll recall that three decades ago, a fiery Dallas billionaire named H. Ross Perot led a blue-ribbon commission to reform the Texas public school system. He’d bitched out loud about how Texas was more interested in developing blue-chip athletes than in developing blue-chip academic scholars. Then-Gov. Mark White called him out and challenged him to come up with a method to improve Texas students’ academic achievement.

That’s when the Perot Commission came to life.

A special legislative session in 1984 produced a new set of standards that included testing for students.

Few folks liked it then. Few folks like it now.

Why can’t we craft a system that makes more people happier about it than angry about it?

My kids are graduated long ago from Texas’s public school system. They got by just fine dealing with the tests they had to take. Were my wife and I happy about the requirement that they take the tests? Not really. Still, we persevered as a family.

Our sons have done well for themselves in the 20-plus years since they graduated from high school.

Now, though, we have a granddaughter who’ll be entering school soon. We don’t know what her parents have in mind for her education. If it involves public schools, well, she’ll have to pass her tests.

The Texas Legislature comprises 181 individuals who serve in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Surely some of them have a creative idea in their skulls to come up with a testing¬†procedure that doesn’t cause heartburn among teachers, parents and students.

Or …

They can find a committed “civilian” out there to lead another effort to overhaul the public education system that’s been overhauled already.

Unless, of course, these legislators actually like hearing their constituents gripe at them about how teachers have to keep “teaching to the test.”


Bloomberg giving Democrats the jitters

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 26:  Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg speaks on stage during the opening ceremony during Day One of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Michael Bloomberg is creating a certain buzz as the presidential campaign starts to gear up.

The former New York mayor is pondering whether to run for president as an independent.

Not surprisingly, Democrats are trying to talk him out of it. Why? They consider him a potential spoiler in the party’s bid to retain control of the White House.

My own hunch is that Bloomberg won’t run if the Democrats appear set to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.

If it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders? And if the Republicans nominate Donald Trump? Well, then it becomes dicier for everyone involved in the election . . . in both parties.

This brings back memories of Ross Perot. Perot, the Dallas billionaire, ran twice for the presidency, in 1992 and 1996. Republicans keep saying that Perot’s strength decimated GOP President George H.W. Bush’s chances for re-election, handing the election to Arkansas Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton.

The jury, though, really is still out on that. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that suggests that Clinton would have defeated Bush that year without Perot on the ballot, that Perot attracted nominally more Republicans than Democrats, but that his candidacy wasn’t necessarily decisive.

See analysis here.

Bloomberg’s entry into this race as an independent is hard to gauge.

He’s a friend of Hillary Clinton. He once was a friend of Trump . . . before the two men got tangled up in some business deal.

Given the utter madness that has enveloped the 2016 campaign to date, I am not willing to assume a single thing about what Bloomberg might do and what effect it will have.

Let’s just chalk this up to one more nod to the craziness that’s brought us to this point.


Trump to launch third-party bid? Oh, boy!

Donald Trump says the Republican National Committee had better treat him right at its presidential nominating convention, or else …

He’s going to run as a third-party candidate for president of the United States.

Wow! Where do I begin?


Trump has been hammering the daylights out of his GOP foes. They, too, have returned the fire. The name-calling, insults and cheap shots are piling up all around the knees of the principals.

Trump, who will not be the nominee, is going to insist on a prime-time TV slot to make his speech. His Republican foes don’t want that. They’re going to insist he gets pushed aside, forced to speak at some pre-prime time spot, or perhaps not at all.

But truth be told, RNC officials must be shivering in fear at the prospect of a Trump third-party candidacy.

Trust me on this: He’ll take far more votes from the Republican electorate than he would from the Democratic side — unlike the 1992 independent candidacy of Ross Perot, who gets blamed by Republicans for costing President George H.W. Bush re-election that year and for handing the election to the young Arkansas governor, William J. Clinton.

Polling data from that election, though, suggests something quite different. It is that Perot took votes equally from both Clinton and Bush and that without the third man in the fight, Clinton would have been elected anyway.

Does anyone believe Trump would have a similar impact on a 2016 general election if the nominees are, say, Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton?

If the RNC is smart, it’s going to give Trump the prime-time spot he desires, let him yammer his nonsense, then show him off the stage, escort him out the door and then let the nominee accept his party’s nomination.

However, the RNC will have to determine which course of action will do the party the least harm.

Heck, it might decide that giving this guy maximum exposure at its nominating convention isn’t worth the reaction he’s going to get.

Let’s all stay tuned.

Everyone hates these tests; why do we have them?

Standardized testing has been a big part of Texas public education for the past three decades, dating back to the Perot Commission’s recommendation to reform the state’s education system.

You recall the Perot Commission, yes? It was headed by Dallas zillionaire H. Ross Perot, who in 1983 popped off about how Texas was more interesting in producing blue-chip football players than developing blue-chip academic scholars. Then-Gov. Mark White challenged Perot: If you think you can do better, why not produce some recommendations on how we can improve public education?

Perot accepted the challenge and headed the Perot Commission, which came up with a series of reforms, including some standardized testing that required students to pass if they wanted to graduate from high school.

It’s been a rocky journey ever since.

We’ve had TAKS, TAAS, TEAMS and now STAAR tests.

Obviously, I haven’t talked to every one of Texas’s 325,000 public school teachers, but I’ve visited with a lot of them during my 31 years living and working in Texas.

Every single teacher I’ve talked to hates the testing regimen. You can say the same thing about the parents of students; they hate the tests, too. Ask a student? You’ll hear it from them, too; they hate the tests.

My question, thus, is this: If everyone hates these tests, why do we still have them?