I want every member to understand what’s been going on at the State Capitol here in Austin. That’s because we saved your retirement from the hands of those who intended to destroy it. It’s a really big political victory and you can tell every officer in Texas they owe CLEAT a debt of gratitude.
Hundreds of hearings, thousands of conversations and tons of tiny details. Our team went into all of these meetings at the highest and lowest of levels with only one goal in mind—to save your retirement. If you are a Texas police officer, deputy sheriff, or county corrections officer, I can tell you to rest a little easier now that the 83rd legislative session is finally finished.
The fight over police retirements began years ago. The economy was down and some wanted those funds to be moved out of the reach of the representatives of rank and file officers so the money could be used for other projects or pushed into the stock market. CLEAT was the first law enforcement group to begin fighting this battle, even when others accused us of inventing the issue and creating a battle where there wasn’t even a problem.
Many of you remember the late Chris McGill, past President of CLEAT and one of my closest personal friends. He was president when we weathered the first of our pension battles in 2009. He was adamant that our team could prevail and that we would defeat these forces of darkness who want to drive our profession back to a benefit structure of 50 years ago. In 2011, CLEAT fought again and protected every inch of the playing field while passing what I would refer to as a very aggressive legislative agenda. Almost immediately the offense from the pension envy teams began telegraphing their next move. The American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), The Texas Public Policy Foundation and particularly, groups formed in Houston began rattling their sabers.
CLEAT began with certain assumptions that the big battle would come to the defined benefit groups first. While the ‘other guys’ joined coalitions with in hopes of hiding behind others, CLEAT began preparing for war. And disappointingly, some voices who should have been helping us in the preparation became prophets of doom and began traveling around the country saying the paradigm had shifted and that we should accept our fate.
We did our best to not get distracted and stay focused. Despite all the noise, our Public Affairs team stayed focused on meeting with candidates and making sure we separated our friends from our enemies early in the campaign process. They prepared the first questionnaire for all candidates and endorsed according to the answers given. I traveled the state asking groups to contribute to CLEAT PAC and we had a record year in contributions, over $110,000.00. We endorsed in 102 races, losing only the two campaigns where we followed our local associations into battle. The other guys lost so many races it became embarrassing to see their claims of political prowess. Late last year we ran a statewide poll that gave us concrete evidence on where the voters were on our retirement issues. Our lobby team used this as a sort of scientific roadmap to our success.
At our CLEAT Executive Board meeting in January, our lobbyist came with an unusual recommendation. He asked the board to endorse a completely defensive session so the lobby team could focus on retirement and pension issues. I don’t mind admitting that some of us felt a twinge of nervousness. Those of you who know our legislative team know they love passing bills. But standing before us only three days after the session began was our lobbyist wanting to throw the playbook out the window and defend our members’ retirements. Something about the lineup across the line of scrimmage caused us to alter our game plan to defense, and I’m sure glad we did.
The bad bills seemed to just keep on coming. The county groups faced an uphill battle with a bill that would have changed their guaranteed retirement rate. That bill was killed. There were bills to change COLA’s, bills that would have placed into law a change in the ownership of your benefits, as in the hidden agenda of HB 1577, and there were many, many dangerous bills—in fact, too many to mention. Many of you responded to our call for backup and came to the Capitol and helped us.
In the end, you won. We fought every day for you and your family to be able to have a decent retirement, regardless of where you work or live. I’d like to thank our board of directors, our local presidents and our members for staying with us and trusting us.