Texans will choose a governor from two candidates with distinct differences: Republican incumbent Rick Perry, whose aversion to big government prompted him to suggest Texas could consider secession, and former Houston mayor Bill White, a Democrat best known for his civic management after Hurricane Katrina.
The outcome of this race, along with those for the entire Texas House of Representatives, half of the Texas State Senate and key statewide offices, will shape policies that directly affect older people and their families in the coming years. Officials elected on Nov. 2 will make policy decisions next year colored by a budget shortfall estimated to be as high as $20 billion.
"A change in the governorship would likely change the outcome of budget decisions in the 2011 legislature" — including health care, education, transportation and more — "basically everything the state does," said Anita Privett, spokeswoman for the Texas League of Women Voters.
AARP Texas has zeroed in on three issues for voters to consider.
- Home insurance rates: Texans pay the second-highest home insurance rates in the country. The average premium in Texas was $1,448 compared with the national average of $822, according to the latest figures available from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Part of the problem is Texas' peculiar system that lets companies impose rate increases with no prior state review; the state insurance commissioner can only challenge rate hikes in court after the fact.
"Right now, the agency is put into a defensive position," said Amanda Fredriksen, AARP Texas advocacy manager. "The legislature needs to give the commissioner the authority to approve or deny rate increases upfront."
- Predatory lending: Texans are also hit hard by payday loans and auto title loans, for which an average borrower can pay $1,200 in fees and interest per month on a $4,000 loan, for example. AARP and consumer advocates want the state to cap such predatory fees.
- Long-term care: Texans need a single point of entry, or "front door," for Medicaid users seeking long-term care.
"The current system has a bias toward nursing homes, even though home-based care is about one-third of the cost, is what the consumer wants, and takes advantage of family resources," Fredriksen said. Careful counseling about community-based care options and preliminary Medicaid eligibility screening could keep families in crisis from turning to nursing homes unnecessarily, she said.
AARP posed questions on these and other topics to the candidates for governor. Their responses, and information on the races for Congress, are available in an AARP voters' guide.
- Consider early voting: Texans can vote early in person from Oct. 18 to Oct. 29. Early voters can visit any polling place in their county at their convenience, instead of waiting in line at a specific polling place on Election Day. And voters who have trouble walking or standing can take advantage of "curbside voting" — call the early voting clerk in your county and a ballot will be brought to your car.
The early voting conveniences seem to appeal to Texans. In the 2008 presidential election, 66 percent of Texas voters were early voters. In the 2006 midterm election, 39 percent voted early, according to the secretary of state's office.
For more information on specific races and on voting dates and locations, visit the Texas secretary of state's website.