Because of the Pandemic, State Senator Paul Bettencourt was gracious enough to talk with me via Zoom. Through technology, his personality and warmth was palpable. After exchanging greetings and a couple of laughs about having to get acquainted in this manner, we opened the interview with a few background questions.
Sandy B. First of all, walk us through your background. How did you become a State Senator?
Paul B. Just lucky, I guess. For 10 years, I was the Harris County Tax Assessor, 1998-2008. I started my own Tax Consulting Firm. In 2014, my close friend and the State Senator at that time, Dan Patrick, told me that he was giving me 24 hours to give him an answer as to whether I would run. He was going to run for Lieutenant Governor. My wife told me that that was the only job she would agree to. I had turned down several invitations to run for Congress. So that decided, I ran.
Sandy B. And it was a successful campaign and good for the state and Houston from what I have read and heard. I know I am in your district. What area do you cover?
Paul B. West Houston from the villages, West Memorial, Jersey Village, Hunters Creek, Piney Point, Cypress to Montgomery County.
Sandy B. That is a very large area with many demographics represented.
Paul B. District 7 has a population of about a million. As of 2018, I was happy to say 472,000 were employed full time. I am hoping that during this crisis, the unemployment does not exceed 20%.
Sandy B. Your term has been eventful to say the least. What do you consider your best accomplishments?
Paul B. I guess it started with me in High School. I have always wanted to be involved with government civically. I wanted property tax relief, integrity in the government, and transparency. Also, I pushed for efficiency and ethics.
When I became Tax Assessor, I came in after a predecessor who had been in the office since Roosevelt was president. There were a few P.C.s, a hand stamp, and a ledger. Receipts were written by hand. It was anti-diluvian to say the least. I saw an immediate need to modernize. My motto became, “Get online, not in line.” Texas was the first state to have electronic property tax filing and electronic vehicle registration. I noticed that workers were getting paid on Friday. Then they came in to register their automobile. The line wrapped around for blocks. One of my executives made a trip to Disney World and he noticed that they used cameras to control lines. So we introduced cameras to keep up with and control the line. I became known as “the Tax Man” because of my efforts for property tax relief.
Sandy B. What a nightmare! I have been in that line before and remember it well. What bills that you introduced do you feel were most important?
Paul B. I had been interested in property tax relief for years. So, I immediately introduced a property tax relief bill, Senate Bill 2, the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act, and it passed 21-9.
Also, I was able to get the dual credit hours for high school students and college students to lessen the fees they have to pay, and they can pick up extra hours. That took longer to get through.
I also was able to get stem cell research, HB 3148, approved in the State of Texas. That was a real achievement for those individuals who have little or no options. The FDA would not approve Stem Cell research because the cells would be out of your body more than 24 hours. The bill gives the individual the right to choose an experimental procedure giving chronically ill and terminal patients the ability to choose something that could improve their quality of life. A doctor takes your own stem cells, treats them chemically, and reinserts them into your body. The results have been amazing. Of all the bills I have been a part of, this is the most significant.
Sandy B. How do you feel about opening up business right away in Texas? Covid-19 is not improving or slowing down.
Paul B. I read and studied the Pandemic of 1918, and 1917 when it began. We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Fortunately the models for the progression of this Pandemic were incorrect. They were predicting deaths in the millions.
We have to open up, but we have to work smarter. Allow businesses to slowly open with skeleton crews. If you are 65 or over, an individual with respiratory problems, you stay on the sidelines until therapeutics are found and/or a vaccine.
In 1918, Philadelphia had a bond issue and a parade where 25% of the population came out. In days the hospitals and emergency rooms were overflowing.
When the war ended on November 11, everyone celebrated and threw caution to the wind. The result was the country was open for a month and shut back down.
Texas is getting a double whammy. We are in an Oil and Gas depression and a Pandemic depression. We have to open with caution.
Being a State Senator is a great job. You have one foot in the private sector and one foot in government. Senators only get $600 a month, so you have to have a business or be retired. I get to hear what businesses and individuals face on a daily basis. Texas and the nation have had years of economic shock in a short time, more than your grandparents or great-grandparents ever had to deal with. The Pandemic and the Oil and Gas crisis has hit every aspect of life — work, family, business, etc. I have the opportunity to listen and talk with people about every problem. I have talked more in the last few months than ever before in my years of service.
Sandy B. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today. I hope to meet you in person face-to-face when this crisis is finally over.
I would like to add that our State Senator Paul Bettencourt is too modest. Senator Bettencourt is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Property Tax, and serves on the Senate Finance, Education, and Higher Education committees. He also served as the Chair of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus and has been named to the Redistricting Committee by Lt. Governor Patrick.
Numerous organizations have acknowledged Senator Bettencourt for his work in the Texas Senate. In his first session, Capitol Inside named him “Most Valuable Freshman” and Vision America named him their “Outstanding Texas Legislator”. He has also been named “Taxpayer Advocate of the Year” by the Americans for Prosperity, previously as an elected official he was named a “Hero of Faith” by the Houston Area Pastors’ Council, and earned the “Pioneer Award” from the Harris County Republican Party.
Houston and Texas need men like Paul Bettencourt in places of leadership. I think we will see him in Congress eventually.