High School Debate Coach for Congress!

For once Republican Congressman Culberson in Houston has a formidable opponent: a high school debate coach!

Jim Henley has been a debate coach at Lanier High School and helped bring the team to several national championships. He also has a campaign blog .

His positions stand in stark contrast to John Culberson’s. Culberson has said some outrageous things about immigration and the recent transportation bill.

From Henley’s blog, I find a good site called Votesmart that summarizes the political positions of candidates. When I was calling up congressmen about the impending vote to authorize preemptive strikes, I discovered that I was hard-pressed to find any information about what Culberson (or any politician) voted for. According to the site,


Here’s its information about John Culberson from the VoteSmart site (and here is Henley’s profile). I disagree fundamentally with John Culberson on almost every level. I actually met him and asked him some questions about the pre-emptive war authorization in 2002. His answer was simply to allude to some chilling intelligence data he saw which convinced him of Saddam Hussein’s capability. At some point, he said, you just have to trust your leaders to do the right thing, he said. Culberson is a well-spoken man, but his appeal to authority just spooked me.

Even if I didn’t disagree with him so vehemently, it was a bad thing for him to have no credible opposition from the opposing party. Culberson has said some howlers and voted for a lot of crazy things (like most recently about the transportation bill). Here is my prediction: Culberson won’t deign to have a single debate with Henley. It might boil down to money. Culberson accepts a lot of PAC money, while Henley accepts only from individuals.

There’s a lot to the idea of electing a high school teacher/debate coach to Congress. Debaters are willing to engage the opposition, research their positions and to poke holes through lousy arguments by the opposition. A teacher has a background ideally suited for Congressman. Culberson in contrast has experience as an oil & gas attorney and lots of legislative experience on the state level (I’ll grant him that). And I’ll concede that the federal government doesn’t have much role to play in secondary school education nowadays (and maybe that’s good). But Henley has to deal with parents on a daily basis. He knows what’s on the minds of students; he has a good sense of what’s eating at people and where they are at politically. Even high school is a good testbed for political ideas. Sure, young people don’t have a sense of legislative history (I doubt anybody would have sensible positions on Social Security for example), but their approach to ordinary issues would be unencumbered by outdated paradigms. At high school students (and their parents) are grappling with crucial social and political issues which may determine their fate for the rest of their lives. “What issues,?” you ask:

  1. Can I afford to go to college? What can my parents afford?
  2. Should I enter the military to pay for college?
  3. Should I become sexually active now or later?
  4. How do you make sure that people who marry won’t later have a divorce?
  5. How do I deal with the fact that many other students are getting involved in drugs or crime? How can I protect myself?
  6. Should I judge people on the basis of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status? Can I overcome social handicaps resulting from these things?
  7. How should low-skilled workers be treated in today’s economy?
  8. To be successful and happy, should one first learn about American history and culture or understand how to be successful in business?
  9. Should young people be made to suffer as a result of the actions (and misdeeds) of their parents?
  10. How do we talk about values in a public space where others have opposing (and sometimes even diametrical) points of view?
  11. Do young people have any voice in today’s political issues? Should their concerns be addressed by current legislators? Or should they be addressed only when this generation grows older and has economic power?
  12. How should people respond to mass media messages telling them to spend or buy?
  13. What kind of family and social background is necessary for a young person to succeed? What kind of legal framework and protections maximize opportunity for people with social disadvantages?
  14. How much free expression should be  allowed in a world that rewards conformity of thought and dress?
  15. How much responsibility should young people take for recreational activities that impact other people (i.e, sex, drugs, rock and roll)?
  16. How much latitude should we give to law enforcement to ensure our safety?
  17. Can young people be ordered to do things they don’t want to do? (curfews, gun control, abstinence, find a job, etc).

These are all vital questions to be addressed by our government today. A person who stays in touch with young people all the time at work (like, say a high school teacher) would have great insights and ideas into these things. A person who has spent most of his adult life working at law offices and legislatures probably wouldn’t have any clue.

Later: it occurs to me that being exposed to these issues at a high school might be a reason for running for mayor (or even governor), but certainly not for Congress. Perhaps. If anything, current funding for political campaigns illustrates the stakeholders in national politics: industry, ethnic groups, pensioners and veterans. In national politics, teachers still have a role to play; they can remind us that individuals still need to be taken into account when considering trade policy or foreign wars or paying for the care of our elderly.