Sandy Close of Ethnic Media Services introduces Texas state Rep. Gene Wu and Rep. Suleman Lalani (L-R) at a briefing with minority media leaders in Houston (Photo Credit: Regal Media Group, LLC).

Volatile can best describe the mood surrounding national politics.

For the state of Texas, unstable might best describe state politics as well, as three Democratic Texas state legislators met with Houston ethnic media leaders on June 27 to discuss wins and losses from past legislative session.

Texas state Rep. Gene Wu said, “This legislature was really not so much about the way the legislature works; it’s really about the way the legislature doesn’t work. This was the most hostile, most partisan, most outwardly wrong legislature that I have ever been a part of…

“The governor was vetoing bills out of spite. We have never seen that before. The governor vetoed a huge handful of bills for no other reason than to be a bully. Bills that our communities very badly need, including a bill that would assist with sickle cell anemia research. Why? How does that hurt anyone? How does that help anyone to veto it. But yet, we did it.”

Instead of voting on measures that would impact the everyday lives of Texans like property tax relief, Wu blamed many Republicans for focusing on culture war issues like blocking hormone treatment for transgender children and banning certain books from school libraries.

Furthermore, Wu expressed frustration that a state that has budget surplus cannot invest money into schools and schoolteachers.

Instead, many Republicans would rather focus on dictating what instructors teach their students.

He said, “We have this legendary status, epic surplus that we will never see again in our lives and lifetime. The surplus was the result of the pandemic. The surplus was leftover remnants, the extra remnants of trillions of dollars that the federal government pushed down into our taxpayers…We have that incredible opportunity to take that surplus—a gift from God and use it to take care of God’s people. We mostly did not.”

Wu also criticized the back and forth between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

He said, “When you have the governor and the lieutenant governor of one of the largest economies of the world just snapping little barbs at each other on social media, that is not normal. That is not governance. It is not leadership. We don’t do that, and I think it needs to be said.”

When asked what role the media can play in returning more civility to politics, the representative from Texas’ District 137 told, “The minimum thing is to acknowledge the insanity exists…At minimum, the press needs to be fair. But needs to call this out when they see it.”

State Rep. Penny Shaw added, “I think that having a hands-on approach and just keeping very close ties with your representatives is an amazing way to keep the public informed. We want to be a channel to bring information to the public, whatever that might be but always tap into us and we should always make ourselves available to you, which means we are keeping in touch with our voters and constituents who government is allegedly supposed to be representing and protecting.”

But some positivity did come from the past legislative session according to Rep. Shaw.

The legislature allotted $3 billion for mental health.

Additionally, the legislature gave $550 million for the coastal barrier.

That allotment reaches close to $1 billion when combined with money designated for the petrochemical industry to help ensure that oil does not spill in the ocean during natural disasters.

Texas also extended postpartum care to 12 months.

Furthermore, the “Lone Star State” exempted feminine products and baby products from sales tax.

Shaw said, “We put a lot of money towards universities, including (University of Houston), and hopefully we will see the students benefit from that in the form of reducing, hopefully their tuition. Certainly, the campuses will have many more resources that they didn’t have before.”

Lastly, Shaw is proud of the money given to state parks.

Another positive that can be said about Texas voters is that they are inclusive when it comes to who they pick to lead the “Lone Star State.”

Shaw said, “One of the things we gained that wasn’t necessarily in the form of legislation was the fact that we elected the first two Muslim representatives, or you all did, and three LGBTQ members, and we have the greatest number of women in the legislature than we’ve ever had and the highest number of Latino women across the United States than any legislature.”

One of the two Muslim representatives is Rep. Suleman Lalani who said he is focused on building bridges even in a polarizing political climate.

Rep. Lalani said, “Texas is known to have one step forward and 10 steps backwards. I’m a positive guy. Maybe I am new, but I try to build bridges and focus on what is positive that happened. I try to find some commonalities and grounds where our strengths are and work together.”

Lalani urged the media to not focus solely on the negativity in Austin, Texas.

But to also highlight some accomplishments as well.

He said, “Fear sells, but fear cannot engage people. I would request all of you to post some positive things so people can get engaged. Give them all these good bills that have been happening, give them some hope, tell them to be engaged. I tell people that a lot of times people get elected because few people decided to vote, so by not voting, you are (still) electing somebody.”

Todd A. Smith
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