Ep. 20 Houston's Day of Advocacy at the Capitol
***fade in introduction music with radio effect***
Rob Icsezen 0:12
What's up Houston, welcome to H-Town Progressive! Houston's impenetrable fortress of progressive thought, I'm your host, Rob Icsezen!
We talk a lot on this show about advocacy, talking to your electives and just getting involved. But what does that look like in practice? ***introduction music fades out*** We had the absolute pleasure to join the Houston GLBT Political Caucus for their Houston's Day of Advocacy in Austin. And that's what this show is all about. So you can see what advocacy looks like at the Texas State Capitol. I could talk for hours, but instead, why don't I just show you! ***fade in background music*** Join me in the halls of the Texas State Legislature for Houston's Day of Advocacy, with H-Town Progressive!
***fade out background music*** [with sleepy voice] Alright, I just pulled up to the Montrose center. It's a little bit earlier than I was supposed to be here. Not a lot of people yet, but it is dark outside. I am psyched and ready to go! ...few cars driving up right now, should be interesting, should be good.
[Narration] I was pretty tired! So once I managed to drag my half asleep self into the bus, Brandon Mack, with excellent energy, gave us his introduction:
Brandon Mack 1:32
Just in case you don't know me, I'm Brandon Mack, education and advocacy Chair of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. And on behalf of the seven different organizations that are a part of our Houston Advocacy Day, thank you all so much for joining us! We're now heading off to Austin to meet with our various representatives and senators. In your packet of information, everyone should have a schedule for the day, you should also have a map of the Capitol, our legislative agenda, and also some tips and suggestions in terms of talking with your representatives and senators. The biggest thing is, is talking about your own story, the ways that these particular pieces of legislation are going to impact you and the communities that we care about. So we're definitely going up there to advocate on behalf of our different communities and for ourselves. And to let our representatives know, or as I like to call them our elected employees, know what it is that we want to see ultimately for the great state of Texas. So once again, thank you all so much for joining us. I'm available in case you have any questions, everyone should have my contact information and enjoy the ride up! Thanks.
Rob Icsezen 2:39
[Narration] So after Brandon gave his remarks, we had a couple hours on the bus till we got to Austin. So I thought let's talk to some of the people on the bus, and well, I thought I'd share with you a conversation I had with a person on the bus who was experiencing this kind of advocacy, for the first time in his life. I thought it would be a good window into what that looks like.
So what's your name?
Ricky Berry 2:58
My name is Ricky Mary.
Rob Icsezen 2:59
Okay, Ricky Berry, and what do you, what do you on the bus here today? For. And What are you looking to accomplish?
Ricky Berry 3:05
I'm looking to accomplish, you know, just learning more about the advocacy and how to do it. This is my jump into the political arena. So I don't know a lot about it. And I felt that being a part of an organization that is training and supports this type ... [inaudible]... is the best way to go. So...
Rob Icsezen 3:28
Okay, so is this your first time doing something like this.
Ricky Berry 3:30
Yes, first time!
Rob Icsezen 3:31
Okay, that's fantastic. So I mean, we need more people kind of engaging with the process. So So today is a learning experience for you. Do you have, what what issues are you going to be advocating for?
Ricky Berry 3:43
I'm not sure yet, I'm here to just learn and go with the flow for right now.
Rob Icsezen 3:47
All right. All right.
Ricky Berry 3:48
Trying to learn the process.
Rob Icsezen 3:50
Which organization of the many organizations are you affiliated with?
Ricky Berry 3:54
The GLBT Political Caucus.
Rob Icsezen 3:57
Okay, so did you do the training and all that?
Ricky Berry 3:59
I did! The training was very interesting. We sat down and talked about the process and what to expect over today, so... I'm looking forward to learn a little bit more about it!
Rob Icsezen 4:11
[Narration] So then we rolled into Austin around 9am... uneventful trip, walked into the Capitol Building, pretty majestic place, went past security and I struck up a conversation with a Rice student who had done this before and was back for more!
Luis Adame 4:26
My name is Luis Adame.
Rob Icsezen 4:28
Alright, Luis so what are you here for today?
Luis Adame 4:31
Basically, I'm here to advocate for groups and rights I think people deserve. So you know, there's a current bill, trying to get "Romeo Romeo" and "Juliet Juliet" clauses included, in terms of relationships for minors, and just having lived through some experiences I feel like this is something has to change in our legal code.
Rob Icsezen 4:52
And so have you, have you done this kind of advocacy before?
Luis Adame 4:55
I inadvertently in high school was a little bit of a "brown noser." And a teacher talked me into coming to come into an advocacy day when I was a junior in high school and lobbying for higher teacher pay. So in high school during my spring break, I came over to Austin one day to advocate for higher teacher pay.
Rob Icsezen 5:15
[Narration] So after chatting with Luis, I had a short talk with Brandon Mack, who gave me the agenda for the day before we headed off to talk to our electeds...
So we are in the capital. We're in the Capitol building right now talking, so let us know what what are you doing here today? What is your goal for the day today as an advocate here in the Capitol?
Brandon Mack 5:33
Absolutely. So I'm here representing the Houston GLBT Political Caucus as well as Black Lives Matter: Houston. The main objective today is to definitely make sure that we talked to our various representatives to get a sense of how the legislature is moving in with respect to several different bills, several different issues related to the LGBT community, immigration rights, as well as decriminalization of various marginalized groups. So the hope is, is to definitely advocate and let them know that the city of Houston and the people of Houston, are very much in support of anything that advances us forward and not any type of legislation that is going to hinder, prohibit or demonize marginalized people.
Rob Icsezen 6:18
All right. And so which, which people are going to be talking to today, which representatives and senators?
Brandon Mack 6:23
So we have meetings lined up with Senator John Whitmire, Senator Joan Huffman, Representative Sarah Davis. We'll also be talking to Representative Alma Allen, and also checking in on some of our endorsed candidates here such as John Rosenthal, to once again get a sense of what are their top legislative priorities, and what we can do in order to advocate and let them know what our positions are.
Rob Icsezen 6:46
[Narration] Lofty goals, right? Well, with that, we were off to our meetings for the day...
Alright, so the Capitol Building, actually is really big and kind of confusing... So we found our way, now and we're walking up a bunch of stairs, looking for our first meeting with a rep... Alright, first meeting is going to be at 10am, in the office of Representative Mary Gonzalez, doesn't start till 10, it's like 9:40, so I'm going to try to run and find Gene Wu, Representative Gene Wu's office, if I can wish me luck! ... Okay, success! I found Representative Wu's office, but not full success, because he wasn't there! He I think has gone to the Floor or something, so I will have to try again, later. Now, hopefully, I can navigate my way back to the 10am meeting. I am starting to make sense of this labyrinth!
[Narration] I did ultimately find my way back to Representative Gonzalez's office, but the meeting hadn't started yet, so I was able to grab Mike Webb for a short interview...
Mike Webb 7:49
Yeah. And so obviously, we're attacking some of the religious freedom bills that are, that the far right, elected officials are trying sneak into passage to session. Because last session they learned if they overtly attack our community, you get hit back hard, not just from the equality coalition, but also from the business community, which is traditionally more in line with conservative elected officials. And so that took them off guard, so this year, they tried to sneak in anti LGBTQ language in certain bills through the language of religious freedom, because they saw that as an effective tool in other states. So that's definitely the bills that we're attacking today. But surprisingly, this is the first year I would argue that we are supporting more bills, then we're proposing! Because...
Rob Icsezen 8:42
Mike Webb 8:43
That IS exciting! And not just bills that are supportive of the LGBTQ community. But because, as we said earlier, we have an intersectional coalition... there are bills like... but what I wanted to talk about was like the immigration bill, SB 672 by Menendez, relating to repeal of certain provisions to government states and local enforcement of immigration laws. Like these are the type of issues that we as a community should also fight and advocate for. And so that's what we're here for today. And because The Caucus is so committed, and so passionate, elected officials know to take us seriously. And so I'm really excited that a lot of the meetings that we will be having today are with the elected officials themselves, like Senator John Whitmire. And that should communicate how our pro equalty coalition that we've created - and help get really good people and support really good people in office - that should show how seriously they take that, right. So I'm hoping that this continues to grow every year. But... [inaudible] that we're successful today with broadening what support looks like and what allyship looks like for each other...
[Narration] We had our first meeting of the day with Representative Mary Gonzalez, who is a great ally. She's the chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus. But after that meeting, we went on to folks who are not allies. Our first meeting was with Republican Representative Sarah Davis...
Rob Icsezen 10:08
alright, well, we just got out of Sarah Davis's office. She was not there. But her staffer was and we spoke to him about the interests of GLBTQ people in the state in general and the importance of supporting them. The staffer was very receptive, and we heard a lot of the right things. Not much commitment, but we heard a lot of positive things. So let's see if Representative Davis comes out, for example, against SB 17, and SB 15, if that moves to the House, and then in favor of some of the other pro LGBT bills that are on the agenda.
[Narration] "editorial note" we need to make sure Representative Sarah Davis's words aren't just words, but that they're actions and that when these anti LGBTQ pieces of legislation come into the House, that she votes against them. So make sure you give her a call! Next, we moved on to Democrat Senator John Whitmire...
Well, you know, in Houston, one of the things we do on our podcast is we try to focus locally because there's a lot of frustration, quite honestly, with what's happening nationally, for sure, but definitely also at the state level. And so we've had some grounds in Houston, particularly in Harris County, the tide has turned. But here in Austin, things are still tough. And you spoke to this group about that recently, what what can you, what would you say to Houston progressives who might be listening to this podcast and want to be dialed into politics and they look at Austin, and they get frustrated and, and and stifled in what they might then do?
Sen. John Whitmire 11:42
Well, first of all, I would say we're making progress in Austin, it's just slower than what any of us would like. Certainly, we've got to register individuals, get ready for the 2020 from the courthouse to the White House, and continue to make changes. I would emphasize just Harris County went Blue, through a lot of hard work and heavy voting. But I would say don't take your eye off the ball in Harris County. Insist on change. And we are doing better to courthouse in terms of bail bond reform - some of that's going through a federal lawsuit - but we've got to keep in mind, just because we're winning elections, that in itself does not necessarily mean significant change, unless we continue to monitor the actions of our elected officials in whether it be at City Hall, the County, or the State. But Harris County is is really looking encouraging. And now we need to take that same enthusiasm, that same hard work to the state. You know, urban Texas is a different society than the rural parts of state. So we probably need to move into the suburbs, and the rural area and identify the issues that appeal to, you know, for instance, education. Everyone wants good public education. Some districts are better than others, obviously HISD is going through some struggles right now. But we need to not limit ourselves to Harris County, but statewide, and even look to finding friends and organizations that we can network with in the rural part of the state because, you know, we're still coming up short statewide.
Rob Icsezen 13:40
And so to your point that we have to keep our elected accountable, what, you've been in office very long time in public life, what are the most effective ways that you've been held accountable? And how would you suggest progressives in Houston employ those tactics?
Sen. John Whitmire 13:56
Well obviously working in campaigns, literally getting to know the candidate, but also what is so effective is personal contact. Everybody ought to make it their goal, and it's doable, if someone that, if an elected officials not accessible, then you, you've made the wrong choice. But I have so many personal friends that I've met in campaigns that remain contacts and personal friends in The Caucus, in Labor, in the #MeToo Movement... it's just a lot of opportunity for you to get to know your elected official, and personal contact, and friendships, really, really matter. So I would look for that opportunity.
Rob Icsezen 14:45
And to a point you made to the group earlier today, I think that a lot of folks on the other side of the aisle don't even know a transgender person!
Sen. John Whitmire 14:52
They really don't...
Rob Icsezen 14:52
So and so, just getting to know people, changes things, moves the dial. And so get out, if you get out and get to know folks, you can move things quite away.
Sen. John Whitmire 15:03
I did make reference that some of my Republican colleagues are inhibited by the fact that they don't really circulate and meet diverse people, of ethnicity or sexual orientation or religion. I mean, so many members in the Legislature live in their own little community. So it should be our challenge, to introduce them to diversity and let them know what really matters. It's not just the right thing to do. But it's, for instance, some care about nothing but the economy, well, having a diverse, equal, society improves everyone's lives. So they don't understand it. So we've got to paint a picture. Sometimes we got to force feed them, through defeating some of their friends. But, you know, overall, I'm guardedly optimistic, you know, look at the National picture, you know, Democrats took control of Congress, I think, I think the Republicans are in for a real shocker again in 2020. If we, if we do our work and make make the campaign issue oriented, it can't, it can't be just personalities. Elections are not personality contests. They're about life and death decisions. So I'm pretty pretty optimistic. The other side continues, the other side meaning the conservatives and largely Republicans, continue to make the same mistakes. So we'll see. We'll see how we come out of this Session, and then get ready for the next election.
Rob Icsezen 16:53
[Narration] After a meeting with Senator John Whitmire, we finally caught up with friend of the podcast, Representative Gene Wu!
Alright, Gene Wu, Representative Gene Wu, welcome to H-Town Progressive.. I guess you're welcoming me this time to the Capitol...
Rep. Gene Wu 17:06
Yes! Welcome to the Capitol, welcome to YOUR Capitol!
Rob Icsezen 17:08
Yeah, thanks, thanks for having us! You know, when we, you came on the show so graciously earlier in the show's evolution, and we talked a lot about Session, it was right before Session, here we are! What are some general big picture thoughts? I think, if we if we can frame it that way.
Rep. Gene Wu 17:25
So you know, I think if you're a if you're a progressive advocate, I think the most important thing to note is that there is a, at least a notable change in the attitude of the House. I think a lot of the members clearly realize that the old schtick was isn't going to play well, anymore. That many members ran on that in 2018, and, and lost, Democrats picked up 12 seats. And so that...
Rob Icsezen 17:54
When you say the old schtick what are you talking about? Like, really aggressively far right stuff?
Rep. Gene Wu 17:59
Yeah, absolutely. The really, really red meat kind of stuff. You know, yeah-yeah guns, anti gay, anti women, anti environment, you know, anti Obama, whatever, you just you just name it, just stuff that we would say, even regular people will say, you know, it's kind of crazy. For the most part, people are pulling back. Even numbers who I know that, they might be true believers, have kind of at least tamped it down. Definitely among the leadership, you talk about the Speaker, Speaker Bonnen, I think he understands that. You know, because his his his ability to be the Speaker is based on the Republicans maintaining a majority. Right now the Republicans only have seven, err, nine members more than Democrats.
Rob Icsezen 18:47
Yeah. It's very close.
Rep. Gene Wu 18:48
It's very, it's it's very close, as close as it's been in a long time. And if you have this last 2018 election cycle, you had an, like, six, seven members on the Republican side that one by not even a point.
Rob Icsezen 19:04
Yeah, yeah. like Bohac.
Rep. Gene Wu 19:06
Dwayne Bohac won by 47 votes. That's significant. And, you know, the more crazy stuff they do, the more tenuous their hold on power is. And I think they realize that, the leadership in the House realizes that. And they're trying to keep members from bringing up crazy stuff. They're trying to make sure that they take care of stuff that's like, we would say, is "business for the state," like education, like health care, and many other things like that, that people expect them to get done. But whether or not that happens in the Senate is a completely different matter, because it's completely different leadership.
Rob Icsezen 19:46
Yeah. So you know, one of the things I've been hearing today, as we talked to various folks, among activists and elected officials, is that, echoing what you've just said. But one thing is that activists in particular, are a bit skeptical that anything has changed other than the rhetoric and sort of the aggressive legislation, that there's still sort of, minds have not changed, they're just a little mindful of what they can do in public, is that?
Rep. Gene Wu 20:14
I think people are still filing their sort of, let's say, "nutty" bills. But the real test is to see whether those bills leave committee, and then to see where they are on the floor. If the leadership was smart, and you know, and I'm always hoping that they are, they would make sure that these bills don't come up for a vote for their members who are in jeopardy. And you know, as a Democrat, I'm happy to let them take these votes. Because these are bad votes for them. You want to vote on stuff that is more more extreme on abortion, you know, the state has passed abortion bills every single cycle, and, and you know, if they were smart, they would find some minor little thing that doesn't actually, that doesn't actually do anything, but maybe they can do some messaging in their primary forward, but otherwise doesn't really harm the state. That would probably be smart on their behalf. But we don't know.
Rob Icsezen 21:15
Well, and we've seen other states, particularly in the South, passing these fetal heartbeat bills that are that are coming out of the states like wildfire right now, particularly because of the Supreme Court balance of power. Do we, we don't see anything like that here yet doing?
Rep. Gene Wu 21:32
There is a fetal heart, heartbeat bill, in Texas. I think it is going forward in the in the committee. And I we'll just have to see how it goes. And, you know, what, if they're, if that's actually what they want to do, you know, we can't really stop them - they're, they're, they're the party and power. But, you know, the easy thing for us to do is, we're going to fight those five, as a Democrat, as a progressive we'll fight those fights. But don't forget, we'll also use those fights in 2020, which is not that far away! And members need to remember that. And then when you have, in all these, you know, all these members who barely won re-election, you know, they're going to have to think real hard about whe-, whether they even want to be present that day. If, if they want to go for these votes, by all means! So you know, I, I'm always hopeful that people are able to learn and be smarter. Every si-, every single session, but not always optimistic about that.
Rob Icsezen 22:46
Yeah. So yeah, well! I appreciate that. How are things with the House leadership? I mean, you're a new hands now. And I've heard a little bit about that today. But what's what's your sense of how things are on the House side?
Rep. Gene Wu 23:02
So you can only base how things are going with leadership on what's occurred so far. And the thing is, really not that much has occurred, right, so far. Really, we've just done the budget. And budget went pretty well. The House pushed out a budget that would, received a unanimous vote, which I have never seen in my career.
Rob Icsezen 23:26
Yeah, that's unbelievable.
Rep. Gene Wu 23:28
And some of that has to do with the fact that the state has money now. And some of that has to do with the fact that, you know, they kept off a lot of the really crazy stuff on both sides. And there's there's some stuff, stuff that Democrats put up that were just to make a point, there is stuff that Republicans put up just to make a point. Most of those just went away. There were compromises on other things. And I think people felt that the process was fair. People got what they wanted. People, people's priorities were taking care of. And for the most part, people are happy, and which, but that is the end product of a, of a political process that was fair, and even handed, and very much in the vein of what Speaker Bonnen promised. Now, the always, the question is, what will the Senate do with that legislation? Now we, we think we did really, really good work and really fair work for all sides in the House budget, and and the question is, what's the Senate going to do?
Rob Icsezen 24:30
So is it all going to hell in the Senate or what!?!
Rep. Gene Wu 24:32
You know, I'm not gonna, I won't, I'll leave that alone for the most part. I think there's an internal sibling rivalry between the House and Senate at all times. And it's kind of biased for me to say, but we we expected the Senate to produce similar stuff. And I think, I don't know what it is, but there's, at the rate that they're going in moving the stuff that we need done, is going a little slow. And the stuff that is maybe not a priority for the House is moving faster. So...
Rob Icsezen 25:07
[laughing] Well, put! Well, question: You know, one of the things that we talked about in depth last time when you were on the show was education reform, because that was one of the big things they talked about doing going in, and lo and behold, looks like something's getting done!
Rep. Gene Wu 25:25
The House is [inaudible] HB3, I think it's going to be a unanimous vote as well...
Rob Icsezen 25:30
Rep. Gene Wu 25:31
I think almost, I would put put money on it, that it, it would be a unanimous vote for it, it's a very good bill, it's a it is a substantial change. It's good for everybody. Now, there are some places that, you know, it's better than some places and others I know, there's, you know, for example, the wealthy suburbs don't get as much stuff. But that's because they've gotten so much in the past, more so than they should have in the first place. Because the system was so wrecked. But everybody comes out ahead, some people come out ahead more than others, but the places that come out ahead more than others were very desperately needed. So, you know, we're hoping this helps. This is this is hopefully is going to raise all boats.
Rob Icsezen 26:23
So that that's amazing. I mean, that that you you talked about the incremental change, I mean, we all want the sort of pie in the sky, "sea change," but that's not something that happens when you have to negotiate in government, but but, what you were really hoping for sounds like, happened! that we had a positive incremental change.
Rep. Gene Wu 26:41
So this is still not the complete reform of the say, the "Robin Hood" based system, right. We're still doing Robin Hood, it's still going to exist in some form, and the way we fund it, fund education, is still not, it's still not where we want it, ideally. But if you're comparing it to where it was in the past 10 years, it is night and day difference, it's going to be significantly better. There's going to be, actually be a decent amount of money for everything, including Pre-K now, do I wish there was more money for Pre-K? Do I wish the funding formulas for Pre-K were more, were more stringent? And and more to our liking? Yeah, sure, of course. But you had, this is a really great positive step. And I, there's a lot, I'm sure everyone can find a lot of stuff to complain about. But overall, you look at the entire package. Everybody comes out ahead.
Rob Icsezen 27:41
Well, Gene, thank you so much for checking in with us. And we'll we'll check back with you.
Rep. Gene Wu 27:44
Appreciate it, thank you so much!
Rob Icsezen 27:46
[Narration] If you've never done an advocacy day at the Capitol, let me say one thing, it is a really big and confusing place...
Alright, so I just finished a meeting with Gene Wu, Representative Gene Wu, And now I am finding my way about the Capitol very inefficiently. I'm on my own at the moment. I'm walking around for like 20 minutes. I think I have a handle on this place. But man, it is not easy!
[Narration] Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day. And so I ultimately managed to find my way to representative Christina Morales's office...
Alright, so we're here with newly elected Representative Morales. Thank you for sitting down with us. Welcome to H-Town Progressive, so to speak!
Rep. Morales 28:29
So thank you for having me. I'm excited to have you here.
Rob Icsezen 28:32
Yeah, well, so thank you so much for having us in your office today. You are one of the, if not the newest elected member of the House of Representatives in Texas. And so we are giving a profile of a day of advocacy here in, in Austin, if you could kind of give us your thoughts of what it's like being a newly elected Rep.
Rep. Morales 28:50
Well, it's very exciting. And, you know, we had the budget meeting last week, and we were we met till midnight. And people here really want to see you succeed. Everyone's been very helpful. Representative Senfronia Thompson reached out to me to joint author some bills with her. I was very excited about that. And part of my campaign was the environment. I'm very concerned about the environment, especially because my grandsons live near a concrete batch plant there in in our community. And today, I signed, I joint authored bill regarding concrete batch plants, because the dust from from those batch plants can be, you know, very harmful to families and children and they shouldn't be close to schools and neighborhoods. You know, so we need to, we need to make sure that these kind of companies are responsible for what they're putting out into the environment.
Rob Icsezen 29:53
And I'm glad you mentioned that. I mean, the ITC disaster is in the heads of everyone, quite literally, in the Houston area these days. So it's good to hear that you're focusing on environmental issues from day one.
Rep. Morales 30:03
Yes, absolutely. It was kind of, you know, it was really disappointing to see that happen. Especially I was only a week in and, or actually, it was the day before my swearing in when that fire happened. And I've been in contact with the neighboring district, which is where it happened. That's Mary Ann Perez's district. So we had many conversations about this. I also reached out to the senator Carol Alvarado and to the Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. You know, are we doing enough, you know, I'm too new to know, but this is a great concern to me, because the long term effects of breathing in the benzene, you know, can be fatal. Honestly, they can be fatal, you know, so, we need to keep tabs on this, we need to make sure that everything is being done, and that people are held accountable. You know, in that, these schools are safe for children to go, to return to so I'm disappointed that right now we're in the middle of session, and we have to be focused on things that we have to vote on and you know, bills that we need to pass or killed. But this ITC fire is definitely something that, that we're keeping an eye on.
Rob Icsezen 31:21
And it really is one of those hard progressive issues in that it's long term effects are hard to measure. And so you get pushback from people who don't like regulating big business. So, we progressives have to come up with with vivid arguments to try to try to argue for why those regulations are justified. And it often goes to what you've just said, the damage to children and these sorts of horrible things.
Rep. Morales 31:49
Yes, and, and, you know, you think about the, you know, the economy relies on these businesses as well. So we have to keep that in mind too. Like many people are employed by, many were employed by ITC. You know, and so, you know, we want to make sure that people are still earning a living, but they just they need to be responsible. And I think there's there's a good, that both can be done. You know, we can be, provide growth for the economy and be responsible business owners. So there's a lot that needs to be done. And you know, and it's really hard in a in a House that is, you know, mostly Republican. It's really hard for progressives to get things passed. And we need to support other Democrat and progressive thinking people too. We need to support them when they run for office, in other districts, not just our own, because that's the only way that we can at least make it fair. If half was Democrat and half Republican, you know, we could get more things passed. But right now, it's, it's only overwhelmingly, Republican! I'm seeing that day to day, and you know, it, you know, and we make friends with everybody. But at the end of the day, you know, things that get passed, you know, a lot of the progressive issues are just thrown by the wayside.
Rob Icsezen 33:14
Yeah. Well, here's a question that, that that, you know, we've been kind of throwing around between the activists and the electeds that we've been talking to today. And that's that's the the rhetoric that that needs to be used in advancing progressive issues. There's the the appeal to the other side by saying, for example, GLBTQ rights are in line with business, it helps your business. And there's kind of the opposition, or I won't say opposition, but the other way of approaching it, saying no GLBTQ rights are good in and of themselves, regardless, without regard to business rights. But yeah, it's great that that business interests are in fact helped by that. But can we bridge that gap? Or do we need to speak both languages? Can we focus on on the value of the progressive item in and of itself? Or do we always need to appeal to kind of the, you know, the business interests or whatever it might be on the other side?
Rep. Morales 34:07
Oh, that's a good question. And, you know, it's just very interesting that, when you're, when you lean too far, to the left or too far to the right, I think that it's, it's, it's really harder to see both sides. I mean, you really have to have some path down the middle where, you know, both sides can feel like it's an advantage to them. And I see that sometimes the Democratic Party is seen as too far left leaning, and, and it's just an easy way for Republicans to come in and squash those things. So it is, it's important how these things are presented, and, if we can present them well, and market them well, then we can get more legislation passed so that all parties are happy, you know. And, you know, can that ever be done? I don't know! But [laughing] you know, those are the things that are that I'm seeing first hand while I'm standing here on the floor and seeing, you know, the conversations. But I think, you know, I see, Texas turning blue soon. I really do. I really do. And I'm excited. And I'm excited for Beto. You know, I think he, he really did a lot to bring certain things to light and bring people out to vote. And, and we need to continue that.
Rob Icsezen 35:46
Yeah, one of the things I've heard today, in particular to that point is that a lot of folks are saying that the way we run is kind of true to our hearts and the deeply progressive people should speak, their deeply progressive hearts. When you come to a place like this, and then you actually have to legislate and compromise with people who are not progressive at all, then you, you can stay true to those values, but then you've got to compromise. And that's really kind of threading the needle. That's the tricky part of being a statesperson, I suppose.
Rep. Morales 36:20
It is very hard. And I, I will have to give some credit to, I have the certificate on the wall American Leadership Forum, because it was very helpful in finding the common ground, and having those conversations with people who don't necessarily agree with us. And that was one of the reasons that I was inspired to run for office, because, you know, there are, there's always going to be an opposing side and there, you know, there's gonna be people who aren't for equality and aren't for you know, these things that we're so passionate about, the environment, you know. But when you can find that common ground, hey, you know, my grandson's are affected by these concrete batch, hey, you know, there are GLBT people in my family, and they deserve the same right that every person deserves, you know. And when you can have those kind of conversations, when you can say, Oh, you know, and then they also need to have their chance to have their conversations, and we need to listen, you know, we can't just ignore their ideas. And I know, some of them are off the wall. But if we can at least have a conversation, I think that that's the beginning to getting things passed and, and making Texas a better place for everyone.
Rob Icsezen 37:44
Well, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciate it and really hope that you can accomplish the things you want to accomplish for the rest of session.
Rep. Morales 37:52
Awesome. Thank you so much, I appreciate you being here today.
Rob Icsezen 37:55
[Narration] The final meeting of the day was with Representative Ana Hernandez and instead of a one on one interview, you're gonna get to hear the meeting with the full Caucus group...
Brandon Mack 38:04
So we're doing Houston Advocacy Day, of course. And so there are eight different organizations that are part of it. And we came up with a legislative agenda [hands document to Rep. Hernandez]... So yes, we definitely thank you for that, and for your advocacy. So, yes, the biggest thing for us is that we definitely want to get kind of your position in terms of especially the bills that we are opposing, and then also kind of your feeling on some of the ones that were supporting. So one of the major ones that we are in opposition against is the non-discrimination ordinances bills, the ones that would prevent cities from being able to make those an actual reality, because as you know, in Houston, we've tried to pass one for our city hoping to do it again, and we want to make sure that we have that ability to be able to do so. But if this particular legislation was to happen, it would prevent that. So if we can kind of get your thoughts on SB 15, and kind of where you see it going in terms of the current understanding that you have, of where it is in the Legislature.
Rep. Hernandez 39:03
Absolutely. I agree with you and I oppose this legislation. I don't know exactly where it is, the Senate bill that you're referring to... It's been heard it in committee or not. But I will tell you, if it comes to one of my committees, I will vote against it.
Brandon Mack 39:16
Excellent. Excellent. And then one of the other ones is, we're also monitoring, is the one related to gender marker changes. The president can probably speak a little bit more authoritatively on that one. So...
Mike Webb 39:28
Gender marker bill. Okay. So we have two in the House and the one Rosenthal, about I believe it's HB, right here, HB 1835. And then on SB 154, are the two bills that we are trying to really push for. And what we're pushing for is a hearing. We understand the realities of this session, for some time now, it's most likely not getting passed. But we want to use this as an education tool to help not only educate our elected officials on, you know, trans issues, but to educate elected officials on how impossible it is, that, for our trans Texans to get their gender markers and names changed on their birth certificates and driver's licenses. If you remember from last session, they actually justified the "Bathroom Bill" by saying "Oh, but if you're transgender, you can just get your birth certificate changed, and then you'd be allowed to use whatever bathroom you need to use." Only 1% of transgender Texans are able to properly update their documents because of the cost. Like you have to hire a lawyer. In Harris County, most of them have to actually travel to Travis County or to Dallas County to get their gender markers, and their names change, because the courts are very inconsistent with how they operate and how they help people with that. And so what the bill does is essentially streamlines the process. It still would go through the courts, it still include all the background checks and the security mechanisms in place to make sure there's no other fraudulent activities happening with that name change. But it streamlines it and basically mandates that the courts actually consider as process and not just ignored it, or say no, that we're not doing it.
Rep. Hernandez 41:04
Does it include like the forms? I know we, I started on that committee in the past, in which we wanted to make the courts more accessible to individuals that don't have legal counsel, and say, these are the forms that you might be able to use, does the bill include that? That would be helpful too...
Mike Webb 41:19
That would be amazing, yeah!
Rep. Hernandez 41:20
...to say, you don't have to hire a lawyer, here's a form that you can use...
Mike Webb 41:22
[inaudible] get a hearing on the Rosenthal bill in the House, we would be issuing or supporting a committee substitute. And that'd be great...
Rep. Hernandez 41:22
Do you know what committee it's in?
Mike Webb 41:23
It's in the Health and Human Services committee.
Rep. Hernandez 41:34
Okay. Wonderful, I'll also support [inaudible] having the hearing because I, I agree with you, there are issues that you see here in the Legislature that are uphill battles, and you look at the votes and you say we don't have the votes. But it's important to have those conversations because you are not having that dialogue, you're not discussing, you're not finding the common ground, you know, someone might you know, have a different idea of what legislation is, addressing here, it's important to have those hearings,
Mike Webb 42:02
We're hoping to move the needle, right, the movement of people's thoughts and beliefs around our community. And so hopefully by next session or session after we can actually pass meaningful legislation around this issue.
Nick Hellyar 42:13
I think a lot of the problems on the Republican side, is they don't, they've never met anybody that's trans and they don't know anything about the community. So until they're introduced to somebody from that community, then they're not going to understand it. And I think it just takes somebody sitting at the table and saying, "This is who I am, this is what I believe in." So I think you're right, just like, just getting a hearing on it, where we know it's not going to pass, will just start that conversation with them. Because, you know, at the end of the day, if they just met somebody, it might change their opinions. And I think in the in the committee, they would see that.
Rep. Hernandez 42:50
With so many issues here in the legislature. I mean, for me, and my [inaudible] the issue of immigration, that you're not just talking about a piece of paper in a household, you actually talking about individuals, bring a face to the to the issue. And the people we're talking about.
Nick Hellyar 43:12
Anyways, I just wanted to say...
Rep. Hernandez 43:14
are ya'll visiting those offices today?
Nick Hellyar 43:16
We're trying to, yes. A lot of times, it's with staffers that don't understand what we're talking about again, but we're trying.
Brandon Mack 43:28
So what are some of the other key legislative items for you?
Rep. Hernandez 43:31
Well we just met with the City of Houston today also talking about the bills that are coming up and talking about all the ordinances, you know, there, I think there are [inaudible] you have to go city by city. So Houston's not the same as El Paso as rural Texas. And so it's important to be able to support our [inaudible] and those are elected officials, as well, that are making these decisions and [inaudible] give them the power that's been given to them through elections.
Brandon Mack 43:58
Excellent, excellent, but we actually do have one of your constituents...
Rev. Cassy Nunez 44:01
Yes, I actually was a pastoring a church in Galena Park. Unfortunately it had to close but I'm still living in there in the neighborhood or the city, and still keeping in touch with a lot of the individuals that were part of that worship community. And so you were talking about making it personal, right. And so the Texas DREAM Act is very personal to me. Because I do have DACA. And so I am undocumented, that does not make me documented. And so, and I'm still taking classes at the University of Houston. So this is very personal to me. I can only take so many classes because the cost is already high. So you add that and, more financial burden. So yeah...
Rep. Hernandez 44:48
[inaudible] I've been here since 2005. And 2007 [laughing]... 2007 was my first regular session when they were talking about eliminating the in-state tuition. And we've been able to, you know, thankfully, defeat it every session, when you look at the numbers, where the students are attending [inaudible] Community College, where are you attending?
Rev. Cassy Nunez 45:12
The University of Houston
Rep. Hernandez 45:13
University of Houston, that university, but mostly community colleges, and they assume, oh well, they'll just pay the international rate. No! That is three and four times more than what you know, in-state tuition, is. And so no, it's cost prohibitive, and will also affect our institutions, because they're losing that revenue. We can't assume that these students are going to continue and pay the increased fees that you're going to lose that revenue source. And so when we look at the numbers in the Texas higher education [inaudible] board, great. [inaudible] the numbers and the waiver students, what they're identified as, the waiver students, and how many are enrolled in each institution, and what that would mean, in terms of lost revenue, if we did away with in-state tuition. So thankfully, we've been able to defeat it. I think this is the first time that we have divised a budget that that has not come up. Remember, last, yeah, last session, we we, it always comes up as an amendment. And so this time, we thank our leadership for, you know, having members pull down amendments like this that you know, aren't helpful for the discussion, while we're talking about the budget. But yeah, you have my 100% support. And I don't know if you know my story, I am also formerly undocumented, so it is a personal issue for me too.
Rev. Cassy Nunez 46:19
This is the first time I actually meet you, I've been living in Galena Park [laughing]
Rep. Hernandez 46:22
Rev. Cassy Nunez 46:23
for three or four years, almost. But it is the first time. I've met the Mayor several times, because it's a small city. But I hadn't met you!
Rep. Hernandez 46:34
My office is just down the street... my chief of staff [inaudible] she's came with me during session and back in the district during the interim. Come by and visit! ... yeah... we're at the corner of Market and Mercury [inaudible] old Jacinto City City Hall. City Hall is there, their old office building.
Rev. Cassy Nunez 46:52
And I also want to thank you for your support in the in the LGBTQIA community, because most of the community I serve now is part of that community also. And so I I know, it's, I specially want to say thank you for the, conversion therapy, the ban on conversion therapy. Because we, as leaders of faith are trying really hard to fight against, that in a spiritual way and in just being present in places like this where it is political. Religioun is, I mean, well, spirituality is political, when you're talking about a person and the value they have and not dehumanizing a person, you know, in every sense of, you know, being differently abled being part of a community that is marginalized. And So, yeah, I'm want to say thank you for the work you've done.
Rep. Hernandez 47:45
Thank you. Thank you all for being here. I will tell you specifically on that bill, I had an individuals [inaudible] you know, stop me the hallway, and said "I want to talk to you about that bill. You know, and I can't believe you filed that bill..." and I said, come talk to me, I said I'd be glad to talk about it! He hasn't been by though! [laughter] But like you said, they do, we really should have these conversations, and talk about...
Rev. Cassy Nunez 48:08
Well you have plenty of support in Galena Park!
Rep. Hernandez 48:10
Rev. Cassy Nunez 48:12
Not just myself there. But I know there's a community that also feels that way...
Rep. Hernandez 48:18
Thank you. And thank you for making the trip up here.
Nick Hellyar 48:20
I want to piggyback off of that, but our community has a lot of allies in the Democratic Party, but ones that actually step forward and author bills that help our community and not just "Oh, yeah, I'll you know, I'll vote on your issues," but actually are proactive about it. So thank you for doing that.
Rep. Hernandez 48:37
You have to have this conversation and same thing, same conversations, have with other allied groups that, if we're not filing the legislation, we're not having those discussions, we're not moving the needle on that. So continue working!
Brandon Mack 48:50
So what can we do to best support you?
Rep. Hernandez 48:53
What you're doing today! Visit... how many, how big is the group today that came to visit?
Mike Webb 48:57
I think we have about 15, which is a bit smaller than last session, but only because there's like five different LGBTQ equality advocacy days...
Rep. Hernandez 49:09
Well, yesterday! [laughter]
Mike Webb 49:13
So that's a great thing. So that means you're hearing from us more than once, throughout the session. So that's why we encourage that. And also we're very specific about what we're advocating for this year.
Rep. Hernandez 49:25
And that's great. Yeah. And the more that you can come, I know, it's hard. But especially when you have committee hearings, and having that testimony, we have a room full of people here to testify. [inaudible] hired here to advocate for a certain position. But to me, the more important testimony are individuals, private citizens that are coming up to testify, share their story, share their views on how the proposed legislation will impact them and their communities. And it's important to do that. So I know you've got the notices, and you've signed up for the analysis on all these bills that will one day get a hearing. That's that's important. So that's the best thing that you're doing, being up here and having the face time!
Brandon Mack 50:02
Any questions for us?
Rep. Hernandez 50:05
Thank ya'll! When are you coming up again! [laughter]
Brandon Mack 50:08
Let's see what we can organize! [laughter]
Rob Icsezen 50:12
[Narration] That was our last conversation with an elected, but the conversations didn't end there. I continued the conversation with several of the activists all along the way home...
Alright, so we're here with Nick Hellyar, down at the Capitol who's been advocating with the GLBT Political caucus all day. Welcome, Nick, good to talk to you.
Nick Hellyar 50:29
Hey guys, how's it going!
Rob Icsezen 50:31
Alright, so what exactly have you been doing today? What was your agenda today? We're sort of toward the end of the day, have you gotten it done? And what's your sort of temperature of the of the situation here?
Nick Hellyar 50:41
Yeah. So I think it's good that local groups like The Caucus, go to their state reps, and talk about what's important to them. Friendly reps, as well as unfriendly reps. I think a lot of times in our community. The, especially the transgender community is, maybe the other side doesn't exactly know who we are, what we do or what we're advocating for. So I think it's important that we just be seen, be heard, and talk about our issues and bring them to light to the reps who quite honestly have a lot to do. And this might not even be on their radar. So if we can help educate them on those issues, that's mostly what we've been doing today.
Rob Icsezen 51:21
And so did you get that done today? Did you talk to some folks on the other side of the aisle and hopefully open their eyes a little bit?
Nick Hellyar 51:27
Yeah absolutely. So you know, Harris County is such a huge county, there are going to be lots of Rs and lots of Ds. So we spent as much time with with both sides as possible.
Rob Icsezen 51:37
Okay, good. Well, thanks so much for your advocacy today. You know, keep up the good work!
Nick Hellyar 51:41
Well, I'd just like to thank you for coming friend! Because having allies involved like this makes our voice even stronger. So I appreciate you coming out today.
Rob Icsezen 51:49
Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate that... [cut to separate interview] Alright, here we are, at the end of the day, talking to Mike Webb, again, we've talked to a lot of folks who've gotten a lot done. Mike was today success?
Mike Webb 51:58
It was very successful, and I think it was more evidence how advocacy works, like it truly works! I hope you got to see how we've helped change some minds, some of our elected officials minds. We've also received a lot of support from elected officials who quite frankly, we weren't expecting. And we got commitments from folks who are in predominantly people of color districts, who are more willing than ever, now than ever, to help fight for our community, community and ALL of our community, like even our trans community, which is oftentimes left out of the equation. And that's very, very great. And it's always successful when those moments happen. And it's all because of the great advocates that showed up today. With us and our awesome intersectional coalition that we had to help us make this possible.
Rob Icsezen 52:46
This is how democracy gets done! This is what happens between election days, right!
Mike Webb 52:50
This is what happens. Advocacy works ya'll! So that's all I think I have to say about today.
Rob Icsezen 52:55
Mike Webb gettin it done! Thanks, Mike!
Mike Webb 52:57
The Caucus getting it done!
Rob Icsezen 52:59
That's right. That's right. Thank you.
Mike Webb 53:00
Thank you Rob.
Rob Icsezen 53:02
[cut to outside building walking to bus] ...Okay, so we're leaving the Capitol building right now. And what was your name again?
Lorena Alvarez 53:06
I'm Lorena Alvarez.
Rob Icsezen 53:08
Great! And so you are an activist with the group and, the GLBT Political Caucus, are coming on the bus with us. How was your day today?
Lorena Alvarez 53:15
It was great. I feel like I've learned a lot. Got to meet a lot of wonderful people as well.
Rob Icsezen 53:21
So when you came here, had you come to do this sort of thing before? Or was this your first time?
Lorena Alvarez 53:25
This is my first time I actually signed up because I'm taking a policy class. And so I wanted to learn a little bit more about the process.
Rob Icsezen 53:32
Okay great. And so do you think you accomplished what you wanted to accomplish today?
Lorena Alvarez 53:37
Yeah, definitely. I think just through taking my policy class, I learned that the process isn't very clear. And we all know that. And so coming here, has definitely given me some clarity.
Rob Icsezen 53:50
Okay, great. Well, thanks so much. It was great talking to you.
Lorena Alvarez 53:53
Rob Icsezen 53:54
[cut to bus] Okay, we're on the bus returning home. And we're talking to
Sabrina Lee 53:59
Rob Icsezen 54:01
Sabrina thanks for chatting with H-Town Progressive. So we are we've had a whole day at the Capitol. We got up early in the morning took the bus down. We were in the offices of many elected officials. How do you summarize the experience today?
Sabrina Lee 54:16
It went well, we got some things accomplished, we had some bills that I don't think they were completely in tune with, and some explanations out there for them. And I was pleased with the ones that didn't know about the bills that we were trying to push to and the ones that we want killed.
Rob Icsezen 54:35
Okay, so that's, and the importance of actually, that face to face contact with electeds. I mean, today, you got that done, you had a lot of folks here in the room, advocating for LGBTQ rights and the bills, against the bills that are bad, and for the bills that are good. And you, do you feel that that moved the dial a bit today?
Sabrina Lee 54:57
This legislative session the dial has moved anyway. It's kind of on a precipice, a sharp point, if you will. Two years ago, we were climbing that mountain, there were so many bills against us, and none for us. And this year, we're sitting on that, just the top of that precipice, going back and forth, back and forth. And while it sounds like a precarious place to be, it's a lot better than where we were two years ago. And so eventually, it's going to move and it's going to start moving more to to the side that we want it to slowly but surely.
Rob Icsezen 55:36
[cut to next interview] All right, here we are. We just got back on the bus, Brandon, Mac, how was the day?
Brandon Mack 55:41
It was an amazing day. I think we did a lot of good in advocating for all of our communities. I think that the representatives were very, very responsive. We got a chance to educate a lot of them on a variety of issues ranging from gender marker changes to the impact of non-discrimination ordinances, immigration, education. So it definitely was exactly what we wanted to see, and what we want to see for the future of Houston, which is an intersection and city where everybody is getting all of their issues addressed.
Rob Icsezen 56:12
Alright, well, that's how you do it between election days! Thank you so much!
Brandon Mack 56:17
You're more than welcome. And please, everyone continue to get involved. We have got to hold our elected employees accountable. And the way that we do that is by lobbying and advocacy!
***begin fade in ending music in background***
Rob Icsezen 56:28
And now I am back in my car, we just got off the bus in Houston's Advocacy Day at the Capital, sponsored by the GLBT Pol... Houston Political Caucus, is officially over! and I can barely speak at this point!!! I am tired, but I am jazzed!!! What a great day! Thanks to everybody for listening! This is Rob Icsezen! and you're listening to H-Town Progressive!!!