“The American people sense the seriousness of this moment in our history.”
Tom Pauken, Chairman
Texas Workforce Commission
The single most important message from the man who chairs the Texas Workforce Commission: “Government cannot create jobs. Only the private sector can create jobs.”
A second theme which runs throughout his new book, Bringing America Home is that the American people understand, better than the current crop of politicians, the dangers to the health of our nation posed by Washington’s big-spending, big government explosion which he traces back to the years of the post-Reagan presidency. He is particularly concerned that extraordinary spending by the federal government during our current economic dilemma could lead to an all-out economic implosion for America.
Tom Pauken, for four decades, has been both a conservative and an activist. He served as a military intelligence officer in Viet Nam. He was called “an outmoded Cold Warrior” by the communist propaganda newspaper Izvestia. He worked in the Reagan White House. He served on the Administration’s leadership team for First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say, “No!” campaign against illegal drug use. He headed the federal agency now known as Americorps when it was called ACTION during the latter years of the Reagan Administration, and its stated mission was getting American youth trained for and placed in stable jobs. Pauken says in his book that in reality, the agency had devolved into little more than the primary funding source for what he termed, “poverty pimps.”
After he reduced the size of his agency and cut funding for politically motivated community organizers, Pauken came home to Texas where he was elected to head the Texas Republican Party as its chairman during the Governorship of George W. Bush. Today And, he chairs, the Texas Workforce Commission at the behest of Governor Rick Perry who appointed him to the post.
In addition to his continuing service within Texas government as Gov. Perry’s designee, Tom Pauken still stands as one who is respected in conservative circles as a stalwart champion of conservative principles, and as an influential and articulate voice of conservative activists across the state of Texas and within the national dialog. His new book, Bringing America Home is subtitled How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back.
It is not a treatise on employment policy for the state, but rather represents Pauken’s personal challenge to conservatives for self examination. It is not a personal manifesto, but rather an offering of his understanding of foundational conservative issues, along with his reasons explaining how and why the policies of those once elected to high office as conservatives have led to realities inconsistent with the conservative principles of Ronald Reagan.
Pauken cites policies of the Clinton, G.H.W. Bush , G.W. Bush, and Obama administrations which have led to growing and unsustainable deficits in the federal budget and in foreign trade, continuing involvement of American troops abroad where the nation’s security interests are murky, and the loss of faith of the American people in elected officials who have professed conservative platitudes while presiding over rising taxes and the inexorable growth of big government at the expense of the middle class and the private sector. His conclusion is that “conservatives”, including both Democrats and Republicans, abandoned the clear principles of conservative thought which created the conservative movement which, in turn culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980 which he describes as the high-point of conservatism in America. His prescription for America’s healing is two-fold: return to those principles; and, govern by them.
I interviewed Chairman Pauken March 25, 2010 about his book and about how it informs his work in his present assignment as Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission. The highlights of that interview follow.
Q: With the national economy and Washington tax policies seemingly suppressing American private sector job creation, how can a single state like Texas effectively keep its citizens employed?
A: Texas is doing as well as can be done under the circumstances. From 1999-2009 Texas had the highest rate of job growth of the nation’s top ten labor markets with a rate of increase of 9.3%. Florida was second with a 4.3% increase. By contrast, Michigan’s “growth” was -20%. In Texas, Governor Perry and the Republican-controlled legislature kept government spending at reasonable levels, tracking the rise of cost of living and population growth. Only Texas, among the larger population states, began 2009 with a budget surplus.
While the nation lost more than 2,000,000 jobs between October 2007 and 2008, Texas was gaining more than 200,000 jobs because the state is known for being business-friendly, with low taxes, prudent spending at the state level, fewer unnecessary regulations, and Governor Perry’s successful efforts to persuade companies to relocate to Texas.
Thus far, Texas has fared better than the rest of the country due to our own conservative policies. But, if the national economy continues to fail, Texas will ultimately suffer as well.”
Q: In your book you offer a great quote from Texas historian T.R. Fehrenbach, “Is it not odd that the most productive and powerful nation on earth seemingly cannot reproduce the intellectual and moral political giants of its first generations?” Are there any such giants on today’s political stage?
A: I think Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower showed the kind of “civic courage” I wrote about in the book. But what is needed is for young activists to develop their own character, to develop into the kind of leaders we need for the future. Today, too many politicians have a short-term mentality, focusing only on the immediacy of their own re-election. Our challenge is to put in place people who are able to look beyond the immediate challenge, building a team from the grass roots, because effective governing requires a team of people working together who share the same ideas and values. The potential is there. In challenging times, people tend to rise to the occasion.”
Q: What lessons have you learned over the course of your life which are applicable to the current economic outlook here in Texas?
A: The single most important lesson is this: Government cannot create jobs. Only the private sector can create jobs. While the government may seem to create jobs when it hire people or buys things, it destroys at least as many jobs as it creates when it does so. A tax policy concocted by Wall Street financiers, globalists and an army of special-interest lobbyists has led us to disaster.*
Our current tax and spending policies are unsustainable. We have created trade deficits and spending deficits which unless we change direction immediately will lead to our destruction. It’s obvious that with the current direction in which we are headed, we will hit an economic land mine and blow up. No one can predict exactly when we will hit it, or what event will trigger the explosion, but you know it will. That economic catastrophe is coming unless we change our national direction immediately.
*On p. 155 of his book, Pauken explains, “The U.S. business tax code, with its high rate of 35%, encourages companies to send jobs overseas, move American manufacturing to foreign countries, and take on high levels of debt in order to avoid taxes.”
Q: How does what you have written in Bringing America Home apply to your ideas for the Texas Workforce Commission and it’s important role for current and future Texans?
A: In a recent meeting, a business executive pulled me aside and began complaining about the ineffectiveness of his local Workforce Board and asked what I could do to fix his problem. I asked him if he knew how his local board was selected. He did not know, so I explained that his local elected officials appoint his local Workforce Board members, and that the solution to his problem was only to be found in his working with local elected officials. The fact is that the Texas Workforce Commission is directed almost completely by funding and mandates which originate in Washington, D.C. It’s almost as if TWC has become a ‘pass-through’ agency.
As chairman, I have the responsibility for the work of the organization, but lack the authority to force changes in federal law or policies written by those outside of Texas. But, there are some things we can do. Among them is to strongly advocate for changes in education. Not every child is best served by a four-year, liberal arts college degree. What could benefit many young Texans is specific training in marketable skills. I see local community colleges as an ideal way to promote skills training, marketable certifications, and trades employment which would create a better educated Texas workforce, and promote keeping better-paying jobs for Texans.
We also constantly work to encourage existing employers to hire local workers, and to help train them as part of their work experience. And, I have worked especially hard to assure that Texas veterans are given the help they need to re-enter the Texas workforce as civilians when they return from foreign deployment in service to the country. Retired Gunnery Sgt. Jason Doran currently heads a group of former military veterans who offer services tailored to the needs of these returning veterans.
When I came back from Viet Nam, I and other veterans were spit on and called ‘Baby killers’ among other things, and I am determined that our current veterans should receive the thanks they deserve for their service. The Texas Workforce Commission is working to see that today’s returning veterans have the opportunity to get the training and assistance they need to successfully re-enter the civilian workforce.
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