Let’s Support Teachers!

Teacher Appreciation Week made me think about my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Alexander. He kept us interested singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” in between hard math problems we scratched out on the blackboard while everybody gave advice. I’ll never forget acting out Hun invasions to learn about European history, or how he taught us to polka during recess. I also remember how Mr. Lane had our AP classes read Crisis in Black and White to understand why affirmative action helped people catch up after years of oppression. These dedicated teachers changed my life and helped make me the professor I am today.

To support our children, let’s support our teachers and be honest about state spending.

Almost everyone is grateful to teachers, but look at how Texas government treats teachers and public education. The state has reduced its share of funding K-12 education to a pittance, with most of the cost borne by local property-tax payers. Worse, the state’s share is even lower than the 38% it claims. Included in that number is the state’s funding for charter schools. The state provides 95% of charter-school funding but only 31% of funding for traditional public schools. Texas loves to brag about being a low-tax /low-services state, but if it doesn’t even fund a third of education costs, our services are too low! Meanwhile, homeowners bear an ever-higher tax burden, with student population increasing every year while the state’s keeps shrinking.

If elected, I will not only support State Representative Donna Howard’s legislation requiring the state to fund 50% of the cost of public education from general revenues, but I will also support State Senator Kirk Watson’s “Honesty Agenda” to make the state’s finances more transparent to voters and taxpayers.

I appreciate teachers in Texas who buy school supplies out of their own pockets, work one or two extra part-time jobs to make ends meet, and do their best to teach, despite expensive and destructive state-imposed high-stakes testing. They shouldn’t have such burdens. The state must pay our teachers a fair wage, give retirees defined benefits and cost-of-living increases, and eliminate high-stakes testing, saving taxpayers a bundle and allowing teachers to teach students and the subject—not the test. Our schools deserve help at the ballot box, where we must elect education-friendly candidates. Teachers support our most valuable resource—the people of Texas. Let’s support them! I’m proud to have the endorsement of teacher groups, including Texas State Teachers Association!

How’s Our Climate?

Even as a child, Thea Bell-Metereau felt saving the Earth was one of the highest goods.

When our daughter Thea was little, I used to tell her we recycled, conserved and reused water to save the Earth. One day, she was watching Superman on television, and the villain did something bad. Her response to his evil deed was, “That is not saving the Earth.” I laughed, a proud Earth mother. On Earth Day I was thinking about how we can repair our climate—not just our global warming climate, but our social, political, and economic climates. We see growing divides between different racial and national groups, young and old, rich and poor. We must find common ground and cooperate to close these gaps and heal the wounds in our social fabric and our planet.

I’m running for House District 45 (Hays and Blanco counties) to give everyone a fair chance for a good life. I’ll work for affordable health care, fair tax laws, and government transparency. I’m a public servant by nature. That’s why I served as a Peace Corps teacher and interpreter for Air Force grain flights in Chad. It’s why I helped initiate city recycling in San Marcos and promoted a bond that built a new library and bike lanes. As a professor and Special Assistant to the President of Texas State University, I led a team to raise student retention, developing the Residential College and international studies. After a Fulbright fellowship in Senegal, I became a Planning Commissioner, protecting neighborhoods and the San Marcos River.

The Texas legislature started requiring investor-owned utilities to generate power from renewables back in 1999. Texas is now the nation’s wind-energy leader.

Education is key to improving our climate. I’ve been teaching for three decades, helping young people get a great education and find fulfilling work. Representing District 45, I’ll support education, women’s rights, affordable health care, a vibrant economy, clean air and water. After serving in local government to protect our environment and neighborhoods, I’m ready to work as a legislator to help save this corner of the Earth called Texas, one law at a time.

Your Choice: This Is What Democracy Looks Like!

Texas is experiencing democracy in action, witnessing the massive March for Our Lives taking place in cities all over the state and country, in uplifting and moving expressions of grief, outrage, and determination, organized mainly by young people and children too young to even vote. The world is riveted and inspired by their example, and some are embarrassed that we haven’t acted sooner and more forcefully to stop school shootings and follow the “well regulated militia” proviso of the second amendment. Republican politicians are quaking in their boots, caught between the tide of public opinion and the power of overlords who pull their strings with money and threats of losing endorsements from the NRA. The young people protesting this corrupt system represent new faces in “what democracy looks like.”

I came away from the Hays County Democratic convention excited by the prospect of representing these wonderful people.

Meanwhile, others are participating in county party conventions across the state and forums for run-off elections. I attended Hays County both as a candidate and as a delegate, to elect representatives for the state convention and vote on resolutions. I was gratified and not surprised to witness how carefully everyone listened to the wording and intent of these resolutions. A few caused some controversy, because people were carefully considering the meaning, language, and possible unintended consequences of these resolutions. Most were quickly and easily voted unanimously, but for a few we had some lengthy discussions. I came away from this meeting excited about the prospect of representing these wonderful people, learning about their views and choosing the legislation that mattered most to them and to me: expanding Medicaid, eliminating unfair policies and discriminatory practices, supporting teachers and schools, and leveling the playing field for workers and taxpayers. It was a room filled with enthusiasm, idealism, faith in humanity, and a powerful belief in the young people out protesting to make our country saner and safer for everyone.

Now the League of Women Voters and Democratic clubs in Hays and Blanco Counties are gearing up for run-offs, giving voters a last chance to decide on candidates. As a teacher, I hope voters will do their homework and look carefully at everyone’s background, experience and qualifications. Our choices matter, and we must pick the most qualified people. We cannot squander this opportunity to join the blue wave sweeping the nation in race after race. I am the candidate for Texas House District 45 who can win in November!

The Manske Roll and the Politics of Pastry

I was looking forward to our first meeting after the election. Sunday afternoon, everyone at the precinct chairs meeting was excited because of the strength of Democrats’ primary election results in Hays County. After winning 45% of Hays and Blanco votes, I will face a run-off opponent who received 31% of the vote. I felt so moved when everyone applauded me for coming out on top of a three-candidate race. The precinct chair meeting was lively and productive, with a few tense moments when people disagreed about issues. Everyone eventually had their say—from the newcomers to the oldest sages of the tribe–and the group normed, stormed and reformed with a new sense of unity and determination to win in November.

Rueben Becerra, our Democratic nominee for Hays County Judge, knows what brings people together—in this case, a Manseke roll!

After meeting with Hays County precinct chairs, I went with a group of candidates and supporters to eat and strategize at Gil’s Broiler. I found myself remembering when I got my first job at then Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) and we tasted the restaurant’s famous Manske rolls. I never dreamed I’d be sitting at that same restaurant three decades later planning a political campaign with the owner, Ruben Becerra, our 2018 Democratic nominee for Hays County judge. The longer we all talked, the more I realized the importance of sharing food, community and a history of relationships. Before we all finally took off, Ruben insisted we all take an extra Manske roll. When I got home I relived the afternoon as I savored the hot sweet pastry.

It wasn’t just the tasty food that warmed me up on a chilly late Sunday afternoon. It was our commitment to the same ideals, the optimism that comes from hard work, and the strong sense of community and love that supports our efforts. I’ll keep working to reach voters, strengthen our ties, and gain the support of all our great neighborhood leaders in the run-up to the run-off. Our primary results reveal a big shift in Central Texas, and the numbers are trending more in our favor every day.
I can bring our varied community members together to win Texas House District 45 in November. In the house, I will work to fully fund pre-K through higher education, expand Medicaid, protect our air and water, and assure the rights and economic well-being of all Texans.

Obnoxious Politicians?

A letter to the Austin American-Statesman urged readers to boycott “obnoxious” politicians for invading your privacy: “If you receive an unsolicited call or text from a politician, withhold your vote from them.” I don’t know who “solicits” calls, but I have run for office, and I know politicians have no desire to invade your privacy. Neither do other people who help with campaigns. Each time a volunteer screws up the courage to make an unsolicited call to encourage you to vote, it is for the public good.

Lucky me! My husband, Pierre Metereau. With out him, I’d just be Becky Bell”!

Most candidates want to improve government and accomplish goals they believe in. It is a privilege to run for office, but it takes a toll on families, who may barely see the candidate for days on end. I am so grateful to my husband, Jean-Pierre Metereau, for being my steady rock, there to feed me and say, “There, there,” when I need it. He knows I’m doing what I think is right, and he never complains about my long hours away from home. Yesterday was one of those long days, starting with a clean-up of the San Marcos river and ending with a meeting of the Texas Faculty Association, where I served as a delegate. I was so honored when this organization endorsed two candidates for the primary: Beto O’Rourke and me.

Like the San Marcos River, the Texas Capitol needs some cleaning up to be all it can be.

Texas ranks 46th in voter turnout averaging about 55% over the last four presidential elections. Democrats in Texas are working to improve these numbers, with initial counts showing 406,302 Democrats early voting in this primary compared to only 352,963 Republicans voting early. This is good news, but it is Tuesday, March 6, that will decide the outcome. Everyone must step up to make this happen, even if it means making an “unsolicited” phone calls to Democratic voters to encourage them to vote in this crucial primary. If we all work hard and are willing to be brave (or obnoxious?), we can and will turn District 45 blue in November!

Sex, Guns and What’s My Role?

Rebecca Bell-Metereau is an award-winning teacher at Texas State University, which trains more teachers than any other Texas college. She has trained generations of teachers.
Teachers with guns? No. Arms students with facts!

Teachers nowadays find themselves acting as surrogate parents, with more and more real parents working multiple jobs just to make ends meet.  Not everyone can make sure that homework gets done or that their children know how to interact with others in a school or social settings with adults. Today’s young people spend so much time on social media that they may not be comfortable participating in face-to-face conversation or the kind of give-and-take expected in the classroom. The other day, I was about to discuss a student group’s research and quotations to make sure they used peer-reviewed scholarly sources. A group member quickly piped up: “I’m not comfortable having our group’s work discussed with the whole class. You didn’t warn us this would happen.” I found myself somewhat flummoxed and scrapped the day’s lesson plan, which was to go over each small group’s quotes with the entire class, to make sure everyone had chosen legitimate peer-reviewed sources.

Looking back, I realized I should have said, “You’re not here to feel comfortable; you’re here to learn.” Unfortunately, both families and schools are less worried about learning than they are about comfort, convenience and cost. The roles of teachers and functions of education are being altered in some harmful ways. The legislature made the decision to eliminate the required health class, which all of us probably remember—the one where girls watched films about menstruation and who knows what the boys watched. The class also recommended on diet and exercise, hygiene, and a number of other truly important skills that are not necessarily covered in every home. This is a change I want to make when I win the seat in the Texas House of Representatives for District 45. We will re-institute this sensible curriculum requirement for graduation and save the lives and futures of students, many of whom are suffering from obesity, anxiety, and lack of common sense information about sex, a healthy diet, proper hygiene, and mental health.

Instead of using education to enhance and perhaps save students’ lives, some Republican lawmakers want to have more guns on campus and eliminate gun-free zones for students in public schools. A few even propose having teachers purchase handguns and concealed carry licenses, taking on the role of first responder in a shooter situation at school. Not many teachers choose a career in education in order to shoot a gun. They might be happy to spend their own money to buy school supplies for the kid whose parents can’t afford them, but they did not sign up for the role of police officer or first responder. Let’s have teachers and law enforcement officers stay in their lanes, sticking to their traditional roles and doing what they do best. Allow and encourage teachers to teach students the daily life-saving habits and techniques they need to lead safe and productive lives, to interact with each other in healthy and productive ways that will ensure educated citizens living in safe and happy communities.

Women’s March Redux — Texas Edition

Exactly a year ago, I was at the Women’s March in Washington D.C. with my friend and colleague, Kitty Ledbetter. We got there on Inauguration Day, the day before the march, and we were shocked by how empty the place seemed to be. No one on public transportation and not many people in restaurants. Then the next day, all public transport and streets were flooded with people—so many that we were almost afraid of being crushed at one point. Then they opened all the barricades between streets and people filled all of those streets, walking toward the mall. Strolling along, singing, chanting “This is what democracy looks like,” taking care of each other, offering homemade cookies, laughing and talking with the police. It was a glorious lovefest of people shouting their outrage at the awful turn of events, but at the same time expressing nothing but love and empowerment to each other and to everyone we encountered.

The Austin Women’s March had that same magical feeling to it, with everyone talking as if we were all old friends. I saw so many people from San Marcos and Hays County, Austin, and Seguin. I saw friends from Feminists United, various democratic clubs, and many of the groups that supported my past campaigns for State Board of Education.

It was inspiring to hear Representative Donna Howard and Senator Wendy Davis speak, giving such dynamic, intelligent, and idealistic speeches about the struggle to bring health care, women’s rights, and justice for all people in Texas. I misted up a little when Wendy talked about the glory of fighting for a cause and losing, but getting up and trying again. That is the kind of courage I want to have until the day I die. That is how we should all live our lives, daring to take on what may seem idealistic or even impossible. That’s the way we make progress. In time, we win, despite every setback, because we persisted.

When LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, he thought it would lose the south for Democrats for a generation, but he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. I’m sure he would be shocked at how long Democrats would be sidelined, but the times are changing, and time’s up. If making national progress on civil rights lost the South for Democrats in the past, it is now the issue that will turn the tide, with changing demographics and new attitudes.

I will do everything in my power to provide a fair share of our state’s bounty, rights, and resources to neglected and marginalized young people, women, people of color, LGBTQ, rural counties, working people—all those who have been under-served, ignored and exploited by this self-serving regime. It will be my privilege to listen to all our citizens and represent them enthusiastically and effectively as state representative for District 45.

Great news … then outrageous news!

I got some wonderful news to help close out 2017. Yesterday evening I got word that I received the endorsement of the Texas AFL-CIO Austin Area Central Labor Council. I am the sole candidate for State Representative for District 45 to receive their endorsement.

I would like to share with you how I replied to their question: “What is the biggest challenge facing Texas now?”

The biggest challenge facing Texas now is the overwhelming influence of wealthy special interests, which will try to exploit our work force, natural resources, and educational system in order to line their own pockets through privatization and private contracts that favor rich cronies and corporations.

Then this morning, I read this American-Statesman article about the Texas Education Agency canceling a $4.4 million no-bid contract that was allegedly awarded improperly. The recipient was to perform “data mining” to figure out how to meet the needs of special-education students but has little experience in special education.

 

When I ran for the State Board of Education, which is part of TEA, I raised the issue of past cronyism, and I pointed out how TEA failed to meet the needs of special-education students.

The State Board of Education has few oversight powers over TEA, but the legislature does. That’s why I’m working so hard to get elected to the Texas House of Representatives, where I will do all I can to ferret out corruption and meet the needs of Texas children.

The AFL-CIO’s endorsement boosts my energy and this latest example of cronyism at the Texas Education Agency renews my commitment.

Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone, and may 2018 be the year of change and renewal we hope for.

Why I’m running for Texas House

Friends stopped by to show their support as I filed to run in the Democratic Primary for State Representative for Hays and Blanco counties.

Today, I filed as a candidate in the March 6, 2018 Democratic Primary for the Texas House of Representatives from District 45. The District comprises Blanco and Hays counties. Here’s why I’m running.

Eight years ago, I was inspired to run for the State Board of Education. Extremists on the board were imposing their religious and ideological views on what’s taught to our children in science, history, health, and English classes. As an educator whose research includes best teaching practices, I knew I could do better.

So I ran as a Democrat in a 13-county district that had been gerrymandered to elect a Republican. I ran three times—in 2010, 2012 and 2016—doing better in each successive race.

Now it’s the legislature that’s in danger of being dominated by extremists. This summer, the Texas Senate passed a number of extreme measures: bills that overturned the power of cities to pass laws to protect their citizens; a bill that interfered with teachers’ and other workers’ ability to organize, a bill that would have instituted private-school vouchers for the first time, a bill that would have required a transgender person to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth certificate.

All of these bill were stopped in the Texas House under the leadership of  Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Speaker Straus was first elected in 2009 in a bipartisan manner by a vote of the entire House. At the time, Republicans held 76 seats and Democrats 74. Despite Republican gains since then, Speaker Straus won re-election each session, but he recently announced he will retire. Unless all of us do whatever we can, this could be the end of the Texas House as a moderating influence on legislation in Texas.

A week ago, the Republican House members gathered and voted unanimously to select the next Speaker by a vote within their own caucus before the entire House has a chance to meet. This proposed end run around the Texas Constitution overturns decades of bipartisanship in that body. To counter this, we must elect more Democrats to the Texas House.

As an educator who understands the importance of public education and higher education, as a citizen who has been active in city and environmental issues, as a woman who values having control over her own health decisions, and as an individual committed to the rights of all, I feel that I can make a positive difference as a citizen-legislator.

As a candidate who is used to uphill battles, who has spent hundreds of hours listening to people all over central Texas, who has won thousands of votes, and who has hundreds of supporters whom I believe can be mobilized in this effort, I feel that I am the Democrat who can win in District 45 in November 2018.

Many of us here in Texas have been waiting for a tipping point. What’s happening nationally led to dramatic wins last month in state and local elections outside of Texas. Now it’s our turn. Let’s make the most of it.