The talk around this town may be all tax reform, Gramm-Rudman and the continuing resolution, but the hottest political issue for the 16 million people who live in Texas is who is eligible to play high school football. Debate has been raging furiously all fall there over the state's No Pass No Play rule.
It is certain to continue into election year 1986. On one side are such unlikely allies as computer magnate H. Ross Perot, a conservative Republican, and Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who sometimes goes to the left and sometimes to the right. Mr. Perot headed a commission that recommended that any high school student who flunks one course be ineligible for all extracurricular activities -- including football -- for six weeks; Mr. White coaxed a No Pass No Play law through the legislature. This fall some 15 percent of high school footballers flunked something and got thrown off their teams in mid-season; Mr. White, an optimist, stressed that 85 percent passed and stayed on the field, and stuck bravely with the law.
Now, as so often in American politics, there comes into the battle a vested interest on the other side. Would you believe the Texas High School Coaches Association? The 10,000-member group has voted to form -- what else? -- its own political action committee, to be known hereinafter, on this page anyway, as FlunkPAC.
FlunkPAC's members are not without resources -- Texas communities routinely find ways to supplement coaches' salaries if they are big winners -- and their influence in the schools is ubiquitous; Mr. Perot once noted ruefully that many Texas high school principals still have whistles around their necks. In a No Pass No Play Texas their stature may be reduced.
"We are looking for someone who is flexible and understands that we do have some problems and is willing to do something," said the head of the coaches' association. Translated from the universal language of PACs, that means they will oppose the governor unless he renounces his own policy. Mr. White, always a shrewd politician, is standing his ground. Both the governor and Mr. Perot argue that Texas's economy needs a literate, well- trained work force if the state is to grow and prosper in the future -- even if that means fielding some mediocre high school football teams. That represents short-term political courage as well as long-range common sense. We trust that Gov. White and Mr. Perot can defend against whatever FlunkPAC throws at them.