A Conversation with Carolyn Boyle, Chair of the Texas Parent PAC

A Conversation with Carolyn Boyle, Chair of the Texas Parent PAC


[ Silence ]>>Everyone here to the
Texas Politics Speaker Series sponsored by the College of
Liberal Arts and the Department of Government here at the
University of Texas at Austin. I am most pleased to
welcome Carolyn Boyle, the Chair of Texas
Parent PAC, here today. She’s the holder of two
degrees from this university. And Ms. Boyle cuts a unique
profile, it seems to me, in modern Texas politics, and this is why we
invited her here today. Parent PAC is a very
rare example of grassroots organization
that has had a very rapid and very direct impact on the
political process in Texas. As I expect she will discuss,
Parent PAC seemingly came out of nowhere in 2005
to become a key player in the last election cycle
in public education issues, and the effects of their
successes are still being felt throughout the state and certainly throughout
the legislature. So without further ado today, we
get to hear about this success and about its implications
for the state. So please help me
welcome Carolyn Boyle. [ Applause ]>>Thank you.>>No problem.>>OK. It was terrific of you
to invite me to be here today. And it was terrific, also,
to be able to walk on campus on this beautiful spring day, and it brought back a
lot of memories for me. As a part of his introduction,
he did not tell you that I got my two
degrees in journalism. And it truly was great
preparation for a career which has been extremely
interesting. Journalism I do think is
really good liberal arts major. And in the process,
you also learn a trade. And as a part of my journalism
training, I learned a lot about asking questions and
asking questions of people in power, and kind of that
it was OK to be just kind of forthright and
aggressive and uppity. And that was actually very
good training, I think, for the PAC work
that I’ve gotten into in the past
couple of years. At the time, I was at
UT and about your age, I don’t think I ever dreamed I
would be doing the kind of work that I’m doing right now. I think when I was 20, I totally
would have had trouble even coming up with a picture
of me as a person’s mother. And I also never dreamed I
would be doing something that’s as high-profile as what
Texas Parent PAC has been, because I was kind of a
shy person as a student and positively did not
like public speaking, which I’ve ended up
having to do a lot. And I also, when I was in
college never would have dreamed that I would enjoy going
forth and begging people to give me money,
which is something that a PAC has to do, too. But I’d like to tell you
that it’s really important to just know that at
the time you graduate from this university, you will
leave with so many talents and skills, and the world
is yours to go forth and do all kind of
adventurous things. So I’d like to tell
you just a little bit about a huge adventure that I and many other parents
have been involved in for the past two years. And it’s kind of a story,
really, so I’m not here to give you a speech today. I’m kind of here to
tell you a story. And I loved his expression
that Texas Parent PAC came out of nowhere, because we in
fact did come out of nowhere, and it all started in 2005. And I was told some of you all
may have worked at the capitol in 2005 or were watching
what was going on there. It was a very frustrating
session at the capitol, and it was very frustrating
for parents who were watching what
was going on and, also, watching what was not going on. And what was not going on was that the Texas legislators were
not taking care of the children. We had big problems with how
to pay for public schools. There was a court order, you
know, that we really needed to do a lot about how
to pay for schools, and the legislature could not
figure it out, would not focus, would not come up
with solutions. They kept meeting and meeting
in session after session after session, and it was an
extremely frustrating thing for parents to watch. And it was frustrating for me
personally because I was kind of involved at the
capitol at that period and was watching kind of up
close what was happening. And so I and a small
group of parents just kind of got together and
said, “Enough is enough. We need some new
talent at the capitol.” So I quit my job and started
looking for some other parents to really join with
me to create a PAC, to try to bring in
some new talent. And when I talked with Jim,
he said, “Tell them how much of a critical mass
of people it took to create a powerful
political action committee.” And the answer is five. It took five. And it was actually
a little hard to even find the four other
parents to come and join with me, because it
was something new, it was kind of scary,
it was really taking on the power structure of Texas, it was putting ourselves
personally out on this really big limb. And so, I was thrilled to find
four other parents to join with me to create
Texas Parent PAC. And it all happened and we came
out of nowhere in July of 2005. And we kicked it off
with a press conference. It was kind of a bold
press conference, and it was really
bold because we truly, we’re just forming this group
and really, at that point, we’re trying to even figure out
what to do and how to do it. But we called a press
conference. We invited all the capitol
press corps to come. We told them the parents
of Texas were really angry, disappointed with the Texas
legislature and it was time for a change, and that
we were going to go forth and raise a quarter of a million
dollars and go across Texas and recruit some new
talent and help to bring about a change at the capitol. At the time, we just pulled
that number out of the air. It sounded like a quarter of a million dollars
was a good number. And a couple of the capitol
press corps reporters said, “Do you think you all are
being a little bit ambitious, you know, thinking you can raise
a quarter of a million dollars?” And we said, “Well, do you
know how many parents are out there in Texas?” And we said at the time we
thought the potential was great. So we told Texas the
parents were mad, that we believed the parents
of Texas were a sleeping giant and we were going to go
forth and wake them up. And the press coverage was
very good and very kind, and it’s partly because,
I think, the news media really likes a
story and they like the idea of this little group of
parents who were mad taking on the big boys of Texas. And so it was at that point
that we actually started on the nitty-gritty
of developing a PAC. And when he invited me to
come, he asked me to talk to you a little bit about
how do you create a PAC? And I’d like to tell you our
story, but I kind of hope that our story might become
something that can inspire you, either in the next few
years or 10 years from now, 20 years from now, because
we need many more people in Texas forming PACs, talking
to people about the importance of really being involved in
politics, electoral politics, and turning people out
at the polls, you know. And it truly doesn’t take a
whole lot of people to reach out and really make a
difference in campaigns. In terms of just
kind of details, it was like to begin with, we did form a non-profit
corporation to provide some protection
for the people who serve on the board of our PAC. We also had to create a logo,
which is printed on the piece of paper I passed out to you. And it’s– if people
are watching this on TV, you can check out our site,
which is txparentpac.com. And we also, you know, had to
quickly print letterhead and put up a site on the web and
explain to people who we were. And part of what Texas
Parent PAC was designed to do and actually has done
was to be a really, truly a bipartisan PAC. We started out with the goal
of working on the campaigns of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats. And part of the challenge is to tell people you actually can
be a bipartisan PAC in Texas. You can be mainstream, focused
on children, focused on issues without getting pulled to
the right, to the left, to a particular party. We early on realized we
needed some guiding principles to explain who Texas
Parent PAC is and pretty much what we
believe in, in order to be able to find candidates who
would support those guiding principles. So it was about a one-month
project even to figure out what are our principles. And you can actually read
those on our site, also, but the main ones are that we
were trying to find candidates who would speak for
children at the capitol. You know, there are people
at the capitol to speak for all kinds of
special interests, but there aren’t enough
people who speak for children. And we thought that was very
important to find candidates who would make that commitment
to be people who would listen to parents and speak
for children and really protect
our public schools because our public schools are
very, very important to Texas. We also have in our
guiding principles that we wanted candidates to truly represent
the people back home. And of course, most of
you would think, “Well, isn’t that what they’re
supposed to do?” Yes, that’s what
they’re supposed to do, but there’s many legislators
who do not do a good job of representing the
people back home. So, it was important for
us as we were talking to potential candidates to find
people who would really commit to do that, to pay attention to
what the people back home said and to give the viewpoints of the parents a whole lot
more importance than the people who were really trying to
harm the public schools, denigrate the public schools. So, the PAC was formed. We had a small board
of directors. We had logo. We had letterhead. We had a website. And at that point, it was
clear to us a couple of things. One, the people who
were the leaders of the PAC truly needed
some consultation. We were reading books about
campaigns, we were going to campaign schools, but we
were basically just a bunch of parents. And so one of our
first tasks was to try to find a Republican campaign
consultant who would work with our PAC and to provide us
advice throughout the campaigns. Lo and behold, all of the Republican campaign
consultants we talked to in Texas would not touch
us with a ten-foot pole, and partly because we
were kind of taking on the leadership of Texas. And they would talk to
us, they would be kind, and then they’d say, “No
way, Jose, would we work with Texas Parent PAC,
because you all are trying to do something that’s
just a little bit uppity.” So, fortunately for us, we did find over in Baton
Rouge a really good Republican campaign consultant
named Fletcher. His name is Roy Fletcher,
who– he said, “Yeah, Texas. That’s great. I’m over here in Louisiana. No one can, you know, get
back at me for helping you.” And he actually ended up
being just a fantastic part of our team. So, once we were to that
point, it was time for us to start looking for candidates. And some of what we did was to
go out and recruit candidates, we also tried to just talk
some people who were thinking about running into
becoming candidates, but what we mostly did was
interview people who were like campaigning already
and trying to decide between two different
candidates. We typically would go and
interview those candidates, talking with them for
about two hours at a time. And in two hours, you can
learn so much about people and what their issues are, what their values are,
what motivates them. And I have to tell you we have
some great people in Texas. And at the end of two
hours with the candidate, sometime we would leave
those rooms saying, “This is the most fantastic
person I’ve ever met, you know, so well-grounded, so mature, so
experienced, such a commitment to their community, you
know, just fantastic people, the kind that we
need at the capitol.” And then sometimes we’d leave
these meetings and say, “Oh, my gosh, that is not the kind of
person we need at the capitol.” And in the course of a 12-month
period, we got pretty good at talking with candidates and
figuring out which were the kind of people who would
really speak for children, who totally believed in
the principles of the PAC. And we came up with some
candidates who just, you know, were the kind of people
Texas really deserves. And because these were
such fantastic candidates, it was what motivated us to
go forth and raise money. And it’s hard raising money. And it takes just calling people
up on the phone and saying, “I am desperate for money,” something I thought I would
just hate doing, but, you know, once we had these
fantastic candidates that Texas really deserved,
you know, it was possible to go forth and do that. And we raised money through
parties, through direct mail, calling people on the
phone, emailing people. And it was really important
to find people who cared about the public schools and
also could write us big checks. And people came out of nowhere. You know, all kind of
people read the coverage in the newspaper and said, “You guys are doing what
really needs to be done.” And so many people just
called in a surprising way. I was called by a
person I had worked with on The Daily Texan
many, many years ago, and I actually hadn’t
talked to him in 25 years. He called me up on the
phone, and he said, “Carolyn, I was reading a quote
from you in the newspaper about Texas Parent PAC,
and I just have to help. Do you actually need
a big check?” And I said, “Yes, I need
a big check tomorrow.” And so we were just extremely
blessed with the people who came forth and helped us on
this effort and trusted a group of parents who were just
trying to do what’s right. So we took the contributions
and used it in so many ways helping
our candidates. We were able to help them with
staff for their campaigns. We paid for yard signs, TV time,
radio spots, telephone banks, direct-mail, plenty of those
robo-calls which are really kind of annoying, but they get people
off the couch and to the polls. We also reached out and just
brought in a lot of parents to help with campaigns,
block walking, telephone calling,
working at the polls. And it was great
that we were able to activate the sleeping giant,
which is the parents of Texas. It turned out, you know,
at this press conference, we boldly said we
were going to raise like a quarter of
a million dollars. We actually raised half a
million dollars and, you know, which was way more than we ever
thought we’d be able to raise. It ended up 12 of
our candidates won. These were like 12 candidates
who had this you know, that were just wow, wonderful
people, were able to win. It ended up one of our kind of
marquee campaigns is what one of the reporters called it was
challenging Kent Grusendorf. And he was the Chair of
the Public Ed Committee in the Texas House, and
he was a disappointment. And of course, he’s
lost and he’s gone, so I would probably prefer
not to talk about, you know, all the ways he was
a disappointment, but he was more driven, I
believe, by ideology and less about really trying to
improve the public schools. So Texas Parent PAC was
involved in helping the person who challenged him,
Diane Patrick. And she was a great
candidate, is a great legislator and is a source of pride to us. Just in terms of the
impact that we’re having at the capitol right now, I do think those 12 candidates
we helped elect are doing a terrific job. And people are telling me just because of Texas Parent PAC
having challenged a number of incumbents that people
have changed at the capitol. And it’s turning out attitudes
of many people have changed, that they’re listening
more to parents. They’re calling up
superintendents more. They’re talking to the members
of the school boards more. And time will tell, you know. I’m talking to you
today in early March, so we have a couple
of months to go. But our hope is that– because
the parents spoke loudly at the polls and
turned out and helped to elect some really good,
pro-public school folks in the Texas House, our hope is
that the legislature has changed and will be more responsive
to parents and to schools and just taking care
of our children. I was asked to talk a little bit
about Texas Parent PAC in 2008. And of course, one of
the reasons we’re excited about 2008 is we know a whole
lot more than we knew in 2006. It was like totally going
back to college in campaigning in terms of everything we
were able to learn in 2006. So, I do think we’re going to
be a little more savvy even in choosing candidates
and helping them to plan their campaigns. And it’s– And we’ve learned a
lot about what you have to do to raise money, and truly
have a whole new appreciation for the importance of
money in campaigns. You know, it is critical. And so right now, we’re involved
in reaching out, raising money, trying to find more parents who
will volunteer with us helping with campaigns, and, also, join
with us in just kind of looking for really good candidates,
those kinds of candidates who will– that will just
wow the people of Texas. So I’m interested in some
questions from you guys. I’ve just kind of
hit the high points. I have passed out a piece
of paper that has the names of the 12 candidates that were
endorsed by Parent PAC and won. And if you’re interested
in learning more about those candidates and
you’re watching this on TV, you can find the names
of those candidates at the Parent PAC
website, txparentpac.com. Questions?>>Yes. Could you just
expand a little bit on the principles of
your organization?>>Well, do you know what? I just wish I had brought a
list of the principles with me, but I’ll just kind of tell
you generally what they are. It’s like eight principles. One of the principles– and
the principles have to do with the principles of a
pro-public school candidate. OK. Principle number one
is “I speak for children.” I mean that is paramount. We need legislators who speak
for children, all children in the public schools,
children of all races, kids who can speak English,
kids who can’t speak English, kids who are disabled, kids
who come from poor homes. You know, the children of Texas
have so many challenges in terms of public education,
and we need legislators who are constantly thinking
about what those children need. Principle number two is “I
will listen to parents,” I mean which seems pretty
simplistic, but there are a lot of legislators who do not
listen to parents and care about the public
schools, you know. It’s not too much to ask
I don’t think to say, “Speak up for children
and listen to parents.” And one of the principles is “I will represent my
district back home.” There are too many legislators
who are totally up there to represent the people
who gave them a lot of money are the people
who were pushing all kinds of special-interest
legislation, you know, which is not something that’s in the public interest
for people back home. So, you know, we’re interested
in people who will speak up for the folks back home. One of the principles also has
to do, “Support local control of the public schools,”
just because the people in local communities know a lot
about what their schools need and what is needed to really
nurture those schools. We think there has been too much
government from Austin trying to tell the local public
schools what to do, as well as providing mandates. You know, there are just mandate
after mandate after mandate on the public schools, and
we believe that there needs to be more local control. And people like the PTA and the
school board members are the people who truly
can just nurture and protect those schools. We also believe that public
schools need to be adequately and equitably paid for. You know, we need to have enough
money for the public schools to really do a good job,
helping all children to learn and to graduate and
to be prepared to come to the University of
Texas if they want to. We also believe that public
money should only be used for public schools. In Texas, there are a
lot of people pushing, taking away money from
the public schools to pay for tuition at private schools. And one of our principles is
“We believe that the taxes that are collected to fund the
public schools should be used solely to fund public schools.” Any more questions? [ Inaudible Remark ] OK.>>You know, you talked about
in a sense challenging the leadership of the state, but I
noticed that you also, I mean, in an interesting way,
you backed both Republican and Democratic candidates. Can you talk about what
that experience was like in the current
environment as you sort of interjected yourself in
a range of different races, sometimes in primaries, as I
recall, sometimes in generals?>>OK. So just what it’s
like getting involved in both Republican campaigns–>>Yes.>>– as well as Democratic
campaigns? Well, do you know what? It turned out that our
candidates were just such wonderful mainstream
people, we really didn’t kind of get involved as
Republican or as Democrat. It was just trying to help
those really terrific people, and party didn’t
really play a big part. In terms of just the larger
scene, it turned out that most of the candidates we supported in the Republican primary
weren’t the candidates that were the chosen ones
by the people in power. And so, probably that
just made it harder for us and for those candidates, just because there were not many
PACs helping our candidates, Republican candidates partly because of them not being
the chosen one or, else, the candidate we
supported was challenging a Republican incumbent. And that just made it hard. And I think it’ll be obvious
if you look at these numbers on the piece of paper
I passed out to you, many of these races were very,
very close, extremely close. I mean like 100 votes or less. And just in terms of
these winning candidates, all of them had terrific
campaigns and campaign managers
and consultants. So it’s not like Texas Parent
PAC was, I mean, who came in and helped them with
their campaigns. Our goal was to be able to bring
to the polls just enough parents to be able to push them
over the top and win. And so it’s obvious if a
candidate won by 200 votes or 400 votes or 500 votes, if
Parent PAC was able to bring to the polls those 400
votes, we were able to push them over the top. And I do think that in many of
these races, just us jumping in and providing money and
providing volunteers and paying for yard signs made
a huge difference. And probably about half of
these 12 winning candidates at some point in time
said to me personally that Texas Parent PAC getting
involved was the turning point in the campaign. And we’re glad that parents
jumping in were able to do that. I don’t know if I
answered your question.>>Yes, you did.>>OK.>>I was wondering. Do you, as a political
action committee have any– do you have any dealings
with the candidates after they’ve been elected? Do you have any influence
on their decisions? This question stems from I was a
student in a public high school in San Angelo, where
Drew Darby was elected.>>Yes.>>In high school, the
school board committee was– it was very troubling. We had a lot of problems
with that committee. And you talked about
local administration and local support
for these schools. Could someone come to you
and use you as a vehicle to get their voice
heard by the legislators and things of that sort?>>OK. I appreciate
that question. Texas Parent PAC is not
lobbying at the capitol. And it’s been interesting
to me, because a couple of our candidates have
called and said, “Well, something’s coming up, do you think I should vote
yes, or no, or whatever.” And when they call, I
say, “You know what? We trust you, and you
are such a good person with such good judgment. There’s plenty of
lobbyists for the PTA and for the teacher
organizations and the school boards. There’s all kind of
people that you can call.” So, we aren’t actually,
you know, lobbying, not trying to really influence
those candidates who are over at the capitol now. Pretty much, we’re
focusing on 2008. So I’m– Probably I
and a couple of people on the PAC board are really
monitoring what’s happening at the capitol, because it
will kind of play a part in which people we plan
on challenging, you know. We’re looking at
the bills filed. We’re looking at the kinds of
comments people are just making in committee and on the floor. I’ve been talking to some
parents who’ve been going over to the capitol and
talking with legislators. And so I’ve been asking them, tell me if they’re
listening to you. Or are they just kind of
acting,” I was actually going to use the word “jerk”,
but, you know, it’s not like they would
act like jerks but– so it’s kind of like
we are interested in just watching everything
that’s happening in the capitol to help us to figure out places
where some new talent is needed.>>Personally, here in this
city, I was blown away about– by the quality of
people stepping forward for the school board, one
of the most difficult jobs, I think in Texas or anywhere. Do you all get involved
at the school board level? I know you can’t spread out–
spread yourselves too thin, but that seems to be kind
of a real critical point in terms of public schools.>>Well, maybe in 10
years, we’ll do that. Right now, pretty much it’s
all we can do just to deal with what’s going on
at the Texas capitol. Hopefully, you know, over time,
there’ll be some spinoff groups, you know, local groups
who’ll be focused more on the school board, because
it truly is extremely important to have good people
on the school board. And in terms of us looking
for potential candidates, some of the legislative
candidates had served on school boards before. And the people who have served on school boards totally
get these issues, you know. They totally understand it and are extremely
good legislators just because of being able to
come in with the knowledge. [ Inaudible Remark ] Yeah. Right. And it’s important, I think. Probably in the last
year, we learned a lot about which candidates win
and which candidates lose and it really helps if
the candidates have run for office before, if they’ve
run to be a county judge or on the city council
or the school board. You know, that it really helps
to have had campaign experience, because running for the Texas
legislature is really getting up into the big leagues. And if you’ve practiced, you
know, in the smaller leagues, I think it helps a lot.>>I want to ask you another. I want to sort of push you
backwards a little bit, because there’s something that’s
really striking to me in looking at your personal history
in a sense, I mean at least as represented by your resume. But there’s this tracking where
you kind of move presumably with a child through the PTAs. And then, you know, a few years
later, you’re kind of engaged at this very high level in
this very successful endeavor. I’m wondering if you have–
if you’re very aware of or if you can talk a little bit
about where you went from being, you know, kind of a
service-oriented parent to somebody who says, you know,
“This is just,” I mean, again, I may be putting words
in your mouth, you know, “Something is really amiss
here, and I really need to get involved at
a different level.” Could you talk a
little bit about how and when that happened?>>OK. OK. I was not expecting quite
this personal of a question, but I’ll gladly answer it,
because you’re the teacher. OK. Well, I was the
president of the PTA when my daughter
was in fifth grade. And I really liked being
president of the PTA, which means I needed
to get a life, right? I mean but it was
interesting for me to be able to organize a bunch of
parents to work for children. And it was also kind of a
radicalizing experience for me, because I learned how little
money the public schools had, and the PTA had to work so hard
to raise so much money just to provide basics at the school. So, at the conclusion of my
year as president of the PTA, I thought, I need
to change my career. I’d really like to
have a job that’s kind of like being the
president of the PTA. So at that point, I did take a
part-time job as the coordinator of a group called the
Coalition for Public Schools, and it was a great
opportunity for me. It was a coalition of about
40 groups that were lobbying at the capitol to
oppose using public money to pay tuition at
private schools. And so I came in not
really knowing all about the whole scene
at the capitol, but I had to learn very quickly. And so I worked in that
job for about eight years. And it was a real blessing to
be able to work with 40 groups and to see what was
going on at the capitol up close and personal. Of course, sometimes you
don’t want to see what’s going on at the capitol up
close and personal, and which is why 2005 was
extremely frustrating for me because I knew too much,
I had seen too much, it was not how the process
is supposed to work. And I knew that some
change was needed. And in terms of me personally,
I was also just at my church, we were taking about nine
months reading the book called “The Purpose-Driven Life.” And so I spent about nine
months reading that book, studying that book, also taking
some other classes at church as learning about the
gospels and called by Jesus to work for justice. And so it was the confluence,
I think, of kind of a calling for me personally and also
knowing that I was someone who truly had learned a lot about how things
work at the capitol. And I had worked with the
coalition of 40 groups, and I knew a lot of people,
had been well trained at the University of Texas
in journalism and PR. And so it was time for me
to quit my job and reach out to a bunch of other
courageous parents who joined with me.>>Were you surprised at the
extent of the response you got?>>Was I surprised? Yes, I was surprised. And it’s partly because it was, kind of like I had
mentioned earlier, that the news media
likes stories. And they liked the idea,
you know, of some parents, just some regular old parents and we really are regular old
parents taking on the big boys and really playing
in the big leagues when we should have been back
on the whatever it’s called in sports, the minor leagues. Yeah, we skipped the minors. We went to the big leagues. And probably, I think, one of the reasons we
surprised people is because people aren’t
used to the PTA way of doing things, you know. People who were trained
through the PTA are used to working really hard and
not getting paid for it. They’re used to reaching
out to friends and relatives and bringing people together. You know, Texas Parent PAC is
a very-low-overhead operation. We have no office. We have a post office
box and a telephone. And we work on our dining
room tables and our computers at home, and we work
till midnight. And so, I mean, I don’t think
people thought we would work as hard as we did without
having a real big-league, highly paid team. And people, I think, also
were surprised how much money we raised. I was surprised how
much money we raised. And so but the, you know, it’s
important to tell you guys, you know, it’s possible
for a small group of people to really change things,
make a difference, get people’s attention, and,
you know, which takes me back to your original question. What is the critical
mass did it take to create a political
action committee? Five. And of course,
you can start with five, and then we added
more to our board. And then we added volunteers, and then we had people
going out raising money. And the news media coverage
has been extremely kind to us.>>Carolyn, well,
thank you very much. It was everything we hoped for.>>Thank you.>>Please. [ Applause ] [ Silence ]

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