Ep. 32 Jon Rosenthal - 2019 Legislative Recap
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 0:00
***radio effect on voice*** Political activism I feel like is at a generational high right now. Organizing in precincts, organizing in neighborhoods, organizing our districts to get progressives elected. We got some more work to do. And we have some more seats to flip. Hopefully, I'll be joined by another large freshman class of progressives.
Rob Icsezen 0:33
What's up Houston! Welcome to H-Town Progressive, Houston's impenetrable fortress of progressive thought! I'm your host, Rob Icsezen!
The 86th Texas Legislative Session has come and gone. 2019 is in the books. And well, we talked about what to expect this Session with Representative Gene Wu during one of our very first shows last November. You should check it out if you haven't already. (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/1e97ec3c/ep-4-gene-wu-2019-texas-legislative-session) From pragmatic optimism about school finance reform to some straight talk about money in politics, Representative Wu really laid it out for us.
Then, a few months later, we followed up on what was happening at Session by going on the road to Austin with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. During that special episode we talked to a diverse group of both activists and politicians. We got in the weeds on what was actually getting done. Again, you should check that episode out if you haven't already. (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/c8827e74/ep-20-special-houstons-advocacy-day-at-the-capitol)
And today, with Session over and done, I'd say we're ready for a recap. What do you think? Now that the dust has settled, what the hell happened in Austin? What did they fix? What did they break? What did they kick to the next Session in 2021?
Well, our guest today is well suited for this discussion. Before becoming the State Rpresentative for Texas House District 135, unseating a longtime Republican incumbent, Jon Rosenthal worked as a mechanical engineer for over 25 years. And he took that pragmatic engineering work ethic with him to Austin. It served him well. Having finished his very first Legislative Session this year, Representative Rosenthal developed a reputation as a hard working pragmatic progressive, and was honored by the Legislative Study Group (http://texaslsg.org/) as this year's Freshman of the Year (https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/cyfair/news/article/Rosenthal-reflects-on-86th-Texas-legislative-14017477.php?fbclid=IwAR0bCFBIBX-WpsgnKyOumzqsRttvH3BKMOIPiQCCwMMM_t_8eAqhgDNfQto#photo-17711695).
It's my honor to welcome to the show today, Representative Jon Rosenthal!
Representative Rosenthal, welcome to H-Town Progressive.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 2:22
Rob Icsezen 2:22
Well, it's great to have you on the show. I'm really looking forward to chatting with you. And I thought that before we get into the weeds of this Legislative Session, and there are lots of those weeds...[laughing]
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 2:32
Rob Icsezen 2:33
I want to just come out with, as a new Representative, what your strategy was going into Session and how that evolved. Because you're a self identified progressive.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 2:47
Rob Icsezen 2:48
And the Texas, Texas Legislature is well, let's say, not known as a progressive body! [laughing] So, and you knew that going in. A bit of a monolith, you went in knowing that you were up against significant, let's say, ideal- ideological opposition.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 3:07
Rob Icsezen 3:08
So what are you looking to accomplish? How are you looking- how are you looking to accomplish that? I know you're, you're an engineer, you've you've been in engineering for many years, many decades. Are you approached- did you approach the Legislative Session as an engineering project? And how did that evolve over time?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 3:24
So I actually approach everything, like an engineer project!
Rob Icsezen 3:28
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 3:28
That's part of, its part of how I breathe, you ought to see me make coffee, it's a process, you know. I bring spreadsheets to arguments. And I just thought, having that kind of structure, it would be silly for me to try to not be that, right, because that's who I am...
Rob Icsezen 3:48
A progressive you mean?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 3:49
A progressive, and an engineer, like a structured approach to problem solving. And so I, in all things, I try to be authentic, I try to be myself. And that was kind of the strategy coming into the Session. So I am absolutely a progressive. And I also understood that I am representing a 50/50 district. And so there would be some areas where I would kind of be walking the line, particularly around energy and energy policy, since that's the world I come from. I feel like I have a little bit more nuanced view of that. But the strategy coming in, was to be true to what I said, true to what I did on the campaign trail, true to what I wrote on my website. And virtually all the content on that I literally typed it myself, every word. So if you if you really want to know my authentic, true opinions on a range of issues, you can check out my site, https://rosenthal4usall.com/...
Rob Icsezen 4:51
[laughing] Right! We'll link to that.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 4:53
Yeah, we, hopefully so! [laughing] But so being a progressive and wanting to bring a bunch of progressive legislation, we sat down together, me and the team once it was formed, and we we really talked about what our goals were, what are, what, more in terms of what was important to me to be advancing. So there... legislation falls into a couple of different categories. For me personally, there were things that we filed to send a message, to say we're here, you know, and and I had all this campaign rhetoric, all this conversation coming out of me, actually, for about the last 20 years, I've talked about fighting against discrimination and bigotry. I have felt like bigotry and hate, were, were real detriments to the advancement of society, human society as a whole. After the 2016 election, of course, that brought out some really bad stuff in social discourse, things that we'd seen in the street...
Rob Icsezen 5:54
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 5:55
Conversations that I had with my conservative co-workers, you know, engineers in oil and gas tend to be a conservative crowd.
Rob Icsezen 6:02
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 6:03
And we used to be able to debate in civil terms, and that ability, vanished over the course of the 2016 election and into the 2017, the new administration coming in, you know, the racism and bigotry, thenxenophobia. So I wanted to make particularly strong statements about that stuff.
Rob Icsezen 6:23
I think that's a common story, by the way. A lot of people have had that experience. And it's really unfortunate.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 6:29
Yeah, it's too bad. I mean, people, a lot of us, a lot of progressives have lost friends. I would like to think maybe they weren't such close friends, if we can't maintain our civil discourse. So anyway, there was a number of pieces of legislation we brought as a message. There were actually some some goals that we wanted to push for, especially around public education, advancement of safety in schools, advancement of, of course the funding in schools was sort of a central theme. I have specific goals, around changing the governance of our public schools. I think relying on high stakes testing is just, it sucks. It's not a good idea. And we have limited time. It's something we could literally talk all day about that, and we wouldn't be able to get it all out.
Rob Icsezen 7:19
Yeah, education definitely is its own topic.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 7:21
It is its own topic. But...
Rob Icsezen 7:22
I do want to touch a bit on on what we've done this session, but yeah.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 7:25
One of the things people don't talk that much about is the governance system, the how we, how we measure our performance of our schools and our kids. And I think that that's grossly flawed. So we use a grossly flawed measurement tool to evaluate everything. And from the engineer's perspective, that would never work. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 7:44
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 7:46
And it doesn't. So there were definitely a few bills, we thought we could get forward in, and were able to, but a lot of it was learning the process. So the engineer does all the research, looks up the rules, reads, I read the rules after winning the election, before getting sworn in, I read the rulebook twice, three times, in some parts, I watched video of floor debates, I watched video of committee hearings, and, to get a flavor of what I was walking into.
Rob Icsezen 8:16
The "How To" guide on how to be an effective legislator.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 8:18
Pretty much. I studied how to do, how the process works and how you do it. And then you go there to do it, and it turns out that there's all this crap that none of that video shows, you know...
Rob Icsezen 8:19
It's not in the book!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 8:28
Yeah, yeah, it's not in the book. It's just like anything else you undertake.
Rob Icsezen 8:34
Well, and the seat that you now occupy, the person you unseated had been there for almost 25 years.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 8:41
That's right, and a old school conservative. You know, part of the strict "pro life" crowd. And so it was a pretty clear choice for the people in the district. I ran as a pretty bold progressive, he was, you know, a traditional conservative. And so that's, it's just a mark. It's just a marker of the way the wind is blowing in Texas.
Rob Icsezen 9:11
Yeah. Okay, so so there's some bills that you file just to make a statement, to say we're here, we value these things, we know that they aren't going to pass. But it's a statement. And that's important. And then the other bills you hope, hope to get through. Of course, going in, though, I mean, the one is, is a lot more numerous than the other, it's really hard to get stuff through! And that's what a lot of progressives, I think, find frustrating, that we've done well in the county, and all across the state, but particularly here in Houston, Harris County is doing great. But in the Texas Legislature and all statewide offices, we are still up against a wall. So I'm curious, you knew go- going and you're up against this wall. Was it what you expected? Were you able to find common ground with some folks in the opposition? Or was it really what you might expect - it's, you're speaking to a wall?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 10:08
So I actually expected it was going to be harder than it was. That was part of it.
Rob Icsezen 10:12
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 10:13
I think the fact that, that of the 12 seats that flipped virtually, actually all 12, are progressives in varying degrees. So I think that that kind of struck fear into the hearts of some of the folks who had been there a long time, people in the power structure. Everyone spoke this time, this Session about how civil things were compared to Sessions in the past, how the two, you know, ideological factions, were able to work together better on things. And you know, we passed a marijuana bill for the for medicinal cannabis. (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB3703) What is, what is it, cannabis, or, it's it's THC.
Rob Icsezen 10:54
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 10:55
It, the, and that is something that would have been a non-starter in the past. The, of course, the school finance reform.
Rob Icsezen 11:02
Yeah, well, let's, let's do that then. Let's talk about some of the specific bills that were on the table. Of course, school finance, that's the big one. I mean, it school finance is 60% of our budget, is bigger than the state budgets of multiple states combined in the country.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 11:16
Yeah, so in the previous Session, they thought they had done a big deal when they got, what was it, a $200 million increase. And this time it was like 11 point something billion dollars, with a "B" so... (https://www.texastribune.org/2019/06/11/texas-gov-greg-abbott-signs-116-billion-school-finance-measure-law/)
Rob Icsezen 11:27
And so we did a whole show on school finance with Jay Aiyer earlier (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/e92eb727/ep-11-jay-aiyer-texas-public-school-finance-reform), we talked to Representative Gene Wu prior to Session (https://www.htownprogressive.com/main/episode/1e97ec3c/ep-4-gene-wu-2019-texas-legislative-session), he was very hopeful that we could get something done in school finance. And, we got something done! But it's kind of hard to explain exactly what it is that got done... [laughing]
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 11:46
Rob Icsezen 11:46
...because of the way our crazy school finance system works... But, tell me about that process and your involvement and your take on school finance reform.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 11:55
So I think, I think just the fact that we flipped so many seats made this, made the conversation we're about to have even possible.
Rob Icsezen 12:01
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 12:02
So it's something everybody across the state was talking about and it was the flavor of the day coming in. And that really created an environment where it could get done. I think, you know, if I can talk in partisan terms,
Rob Icsezen 12:17
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 12:18
Republicans who had been resistant to spending this kind of money in schools were open to it. And in, on the House Committee, on the House side, a bunch of progressive stuff got in there, especially in the draft that was passed through the House, stuff like funding for universal pre-K, stuff like a huge changing the formulas by which you calculate the "recapture" which, I know that that's technical wonky stuff, but but basically, so it costs less to taxpayers, so that wealthy school districts don't have to, changing the way that we calculate which districts are wealthy. So that some that like, HISD, our Houston Independent School District has some of the poorest areas in the state. And yet, because of the flaws in the calculation, we're having to pay the state back a hundred million dollars, hundred and sixty million dollars.
Rob Icsezen 13:13
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 13:13
Huge sums of money that, that you just cannot take money out of systems that are struggling and expect that they're going to do better.
Rob Icsezen 13:22
And that's that is particularly close to my heart. I have four kids in HISD...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 13:25
Rob Icsezen 13:26
And so yes, but my understanding is that we are still in "recapture" it's just a smaller number.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 13:32
It's a way smaller number.
Rob Icsezen 13:33
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 13:33
And we're still in "recapture." So there's, there's still work to do. The point was that a bunch of progressive stuff got into that bill, that didn't have a chance before.
Rob Icsezen 13:33
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 13:43
And I think it's because of the way the political winds are blowing. Here's the bottom line in the Texas State Legislature, hits you in the face in the first weeks that you're doing this work. And that is that the only thing that people in power pay attention to is money and power. And the those two things are linked. And it's all about the money. It's all about being able to continue in the position.
Rob Icsezen 14:07
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 14:08
If it's a political- you have to phrase things, even the ones who are there for the right reason. The thing that makes a legislator's ears perk up is, if you don't do this or that, you're not going to get reelected, you know, or this is going to damage your chances to getting reelected. So it may be a little bit of a cynical thing. Even the people- even me! I'll- I would have to pay attention to that. It's the, it's the reality of it.
Rob Icsezen 14:34
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 14:35
I just had not thought about it that way.
Rob Icsezen 14:37
I mean it is one of those, those things that people hear, I hear, and I think god! That- that's exactly the wrong- that's like the big criticism that people make of politicians! Like you're just in it for self aggrandizement. You want to be there for you and not for the people. I mean, shouldn't tne, shouldn't the position, I'll speak ideologically here, shouldn't the ideal representative say, I'm going to do what's right, even if I lose? And does that ever happen?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 15:03
Actually, I'm going to say I took votes like that. So there's, I did, I am so against doing things for political expediency. And I think it's so much more important to, to be authentic, to say what you're gonna do and do what you said. You know, I mean, just keeping your word is a huge thing.
Rob Icsezen 15:24
Yeah. But your impression is that power and money are the things that people care about. Power being keeping the position and the money being able to tell, I suppose, your Republican voters that that you reduced taxes or spent less money.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 15:37
Sure, and those are, those are primary drivers.
Rob Icsezen 15:41
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 15:42
And here's the way that it plays out in real life. So it sounds very cynical, but it's not. If I want to, let's say I have this long term goal of getting rid of the STAAR test: it is a flawed test, it is quite frankly, a piece of shit!
Rob Icsezen 15:56
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 15:58
It's the way that it's simple implemented is damaging to the students, it's damaging to the teachers, I could go on and on about how horrible this thing is. It's so, it's so popular to say, I'm just going to get rid of that test, I want to get rid of it. And that's fine. You know, the thing is to actually make that happen, there's a bunch of stuff to unpack and unweave. You can't just do it, you can't just say okay, we're going to eliminate it tomorrow. Because if it's not replaced with something that fulfills the federal requirements, we lose a ton of federal dollars coming into our state school system. And that's just untenable, you cannot do that.
Rob Icsezen 16:37
That's one of those things- that point that you just made is one of those things that is one of those realities of legislating that you can speak to a particular policy end, let's say, but the practical means to get there is much more complicated than I think anyone might even be able to understand until they're there.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 17:00
Right. So I'm committed to making it happen by the way, that's my long term goal in the legislature. We're going to get rid of that damn test, okay. I'm not going to be able to do that if I'm a one term legislator or even a two term legislator. It's, it's going to take a couple of bites at that apple, It's one of these- it's a problem that's large enough, complex enough and woven together, embedded enough that it's going to take a little bit- it's going to take quite a bit of work to unpack. And most people don't even understand how those requirements fit together.
Rob Icsezen 17:33
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 17:35
And so it's, while it's popular to say, the test is horrible, let's get rid of it, there's a practical side to that, that's going to take a little work. And so it's very important to me to be able to continue in this role, so that I can advance that cause.
Rob Icsezen 17:49
So this rings true to something that representative Wu said prior to Session when we spoke before Session started. And that is a very practical approach to legislating, which is, he was optimistic about getting the school finance bill done. And we did.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 18:05
Rob Icsezen 18:06
And the change was incremental. And that's what he said, Don't expect us to overhaul this broken kind of ridiculous system. It is broken and ridiculous. But here's what we can hope to do. We can hope to get our formula ticked up a little bit, which will bring more money to districts and that's a good thing, unequivocably. Maybe next session, maybe a few sessions down the road, then we can overhaul it. But that's that's a long term thing that's going to take a lot of time and a lot of work.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 18:33
Rob Icsezen 18:33
And you're saying the same thing.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 18:34
Yeah. And I feel exactly the same way. So this, what we did in House Bill 3 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB3), which is the school finance reform package, is a very positive step in the right direction. We still don't have a sustainable model for long term funding of this.
Rob Icsezen 18:52
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 18:53
So it looks good for the next couple of years. But it's heavily reliant on unstable funding sources. Also, while it increases the state's percentage of what they pay into the system, we're still not at that 50/50 level which we wanted to get back to, that was the traditional model.
Rob Icsezen 19:12
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 19:13
So Gene's exactly right. It's going to take a couple of tries. It's gonna take the voters voting in people who continue to be committed to this. So those of you out there listening to this, do not let anybody say we have done that, it's a done deal- HB whatever it was, we have done school finance reform. We have done the first step in that. And we have to stay at it if we, if we want to get to a system that's equitable, for everybody that, that is truly not just fair, but also sustainable.
Rob Icsezen 19:51
Yeah. Well, and is it eight or nine seats that Democrats need to take the majority in the House?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 20:00
Nine to flip the majority.
Rob Icsezen 20:02
Nine to flip the majority. Okay. And that is doable. In the next session.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 20:07
I believe it is.
Rob Icsezen 20:11
So that and that is a level of optimism that I think Texans haven't been able to have for a long time. Because if you have, if you have a Democrat majority in the Texas House with a Democrat Speaker of the House, wow!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 20:26
If you have a Democrat Speaker of the House, and - here's what people don't even think about - you need a Democrat chair on the Calendars Committee, or none of the bills come to the House floor.
Rob Icsezen 20:34
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 20:35
So those two things will allow us to really advance a progressive agenda. And even the conservatives who fight back against these things, enjoy the benefits of progressive, you know, values.
Rob Icsezen 20:49
Of course they do! Yeah, I mean, because it helps the people!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 20:52
It helps the people, it's access to health care, it's educating the kids, and and even if they don't want to spend their dollars to educate kids in poor- wealthy people don't want to spend their dollars to educate kids in poor neighborhoods, or whatever they're thinking on that is, you know, even if they're just selfish about it, there, you'll have less people in the criminal- interacting in the criminal justice system. Your neighborhoods will be safer. And our society advances as a whole when everybody is educated. That's just the deal, man.
Rob Icsezen 21:25
So that is the deal. Let's talk about a couple bills then, specific bills. And I want- the first one I wanted to focus on was one that you sent to us in advance, which is House Bill 595 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB595). If you could, I won't explain what it is, you can do that.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 21:42
Rob Icsezen 21:43
But this is an example, I think, of what you said first, is filing a bill for the sake of making a statement because you knew it wasn't going to get passed. But it's also an example of being boldly progressive...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 21:57
Rob Icsezen 21:58
...of not trying to sort of toe the line, be a middle of the road person or whatever it might be, pander to the middle, whatever, however you might define that. I mean this is a balls out progressive thing to do. So tell us what that is.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 22:12
Okay, so House Bill 595, the technical aspect of it is, it brings it brings a criminal penalty for for making false alarms that are bias or prejudice. And so in real language, this is when somebody makes a 911 call, and it's out of bias or prejudice. So this this, there've been so many news reports about the lady calling the police on two young black men who are barbecuing in a park, using, you know, an area that's designated for barbecuing. And so I'm not sure how else you could describe that. We had we had a situation where a bank teller called the police on a black customer because she thought the check he was depositing was too large to be his, even though his name was on it.
Rob Icsezen 23:03
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 23:03
You know, Yeah, seriously. So the person, college student was it, called police on on a young lady who was napping in a common area of a dorm - that she lived in! - because she's black.
Rob Icsezen 23:17
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 23:19
So if, the point of the bill is, if you could convince a jury that that the call was made out of bias or prejudice instead of any any real issue, that, that you could end up jailing somebody for that. And so House Bill 595, was really meant to make people think twice before using 911 as a weapon. And it's really, not only is it horrible, you know, bigoted - what is it, a racist white supremacy power play - to do this or to even threatened doing it, you know, you'd have to think about that. There has to be some accountability for it. So that was the bill I brought.
Rob Icsezen 24:03
I like the use of the term accountability in that sense, because that's, that's something that the opposition has appropriated. the term "accountability." It goes both ways.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 24:12
[laughing] Yeah, it does! Absolutely.
Rob Icsezen 24:13
And I also like the use of the term, "using 911 as a weapon," because that's essentially what it is. And I tell you, any black, African American person listening to this podcast, or any person from a from a group that's been marginalized, or oppressed, is shaking their head right now, saying, Yup, that's stuff that's happened to me, or someone I know, or... on multiple occasions.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 24:39
And so filing that first sends a message, right. We, me and my chief of staff, who happens to be a young black man, had gone back and forth about what bill do you want to file first. Like, you only get a chance to do the first one one time, what's it going to be? And we talked about education - I ran on public education - we talked about healthcare - that's a big issue...
Rob Icsezen 25:02
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 25:02
But you know, everybody is doing that stuff. And I kind of like to be a little different. And I heard a story about a legislator in another state who filed kind of a similar bill. And I'm calling up, I'm calling my chief, almost the middle of the night, it's like 11 o'clock at night. I'm like, Dude, this has got to be the first one! This is it! So this is making the statement. This is what we came here to do. And I can always say my first bill was an anti discrimination bill.
Rob Icsezen 25:26
Yeah, and so what's the statement that you were hoping to make with that, as a freshman member of the House of Representatives, surrounded by Republicans, far right, Republicans. What is the statement you're making with House Bill 595?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 25:38
[laughing] The first statement is that I am here to oppose bigotry and racism in all its forms. And the second thing, you know, the second thing is, I'm not afraid to forward that kind of stuff. You know, we are here to make the statement and advance these goals. And even though this particular bill may not get out of committee, this time, we're gonna come back to that.
Rob Icsezen 26:01
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:01
And you can, you know, count on me to be progressive, and I don't even know that that needs to be a progressive value.
Rob Icsezen 26:08
That shouldn't be progressive! I mean, this is about about justice, and equality, and shouldn't everybody be in favor of that?!?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:14
It's about it's about, we talk about human rights...
Rob Icsezen 26:17
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:18
...you know, it's about human rights, it's about recognizing the humanity of all of our humans. And so we've got policy that allows discrimination. We still have legal discrimination in this country.
Rob Icsezen 26:30
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:31
We were talking about GLBT, it's Pride Month right now, this is one of the only groups left that that folks can legally discriminate against.
Rob Icsezen 26:41
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:41
You can still fire someone from their job in Texas if you find out they're gay, and that's a reason you can fire them.
Rob Icsezen 26:47
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:47
I think that that is freaking ridiculous!
Rob Icsezen 26:49
There's something in the criminal law called "gay panic" or "trans panic" - the transpanic defense.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 26:56
Oh god, yeah I was actually just gonna bring that up.
Rob Icsezen 26:57
Yeah, that, I read about this the other day. We've done a series of shows on GLBTQIA+ issues, and I did not know about this, but it is a defense to murder!?!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:07
It's a defense to murdering trans people.
Rob Icsezen 27:09
Trans or other GLBT people, "gay" or "trans" panic is the defense that, Oh, I was so shocked when I found out that this person's identity, that how could I possibly have not murdered that person?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:23
Yeah. How could I possibly restrain myself and just treat them as another human being?
Rob Icsezen 27:26
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:27
Rob Icsezen 27:28
So you have been, you've been a champion of GLBTQIA+ rights in the House. I mean, you worked on a gender marker bill.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:37
I did I I submitted the gender marker bill (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB1835).
Rob Icsezen 27:39
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:41
I am a supporter of the of the trans community. We were talking before we started recording about The TransAdvocate (https://www.transadvocate.com/), which is a program run by - sorry for advertising on the podcast -
Rob Icsezen 27:53
Sure. Advertise away! [laughing] It's fine.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 27:56
Transgender Foundation of America (https://tfahouston.com/), I'm close with those folks. I walked with them in the Pride Parade last year, and I will again this year.
Rob Icsezen 28:03
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 28:04
They're just a group that, that it, among the spectrum, they're a group that gets particularly discriminated against. We've had two black trans females killed in Dallas in the last 40 days.
Rob Icsezen 28:17
Yeah. Well, and so this episode is probably going to air after Pride Month, but at the time of this recording, seven trans people have been murdered in the country, two in Dallas that you just mentioned. [It's now 10 - https://transgriot.blogspot.com/2019/06/number-10-rest-in-power-and-peace-zoe.html]
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 28:30
Rob Icsezen 28:30
All of whom were African American, I believe. And it's a huge problem. It's a huge problem. And here's a question I have for you, actually. That, well you're talking about, it shouldn't be a progressive issue, the 595 Bill that you passed, basically saying, Hey, people don't don't use 911 is a weapon. That should- that's not a progressive value! But it is. And here's why I think it is: I'm curious, if you believe- I think progressivism versus conservatism - now we're going to go 30,000 feet for a moment!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 28:59
Rob Icsezen 29:00
Is about power structures. To be conservative, in my opinion, is to be okay with the existing power structure, to sort of give, by default, certain deference to the power structure that exists. We trust the police, we trust the government, we tru- well, maybe not the government I suppose! [laughing]
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 29:18
Rob Icsezen 29:19
They don't like the government! But we trust the power structure, the corporate interests that run things, we have a certain deference to that. Whereas on a progressive, in a progressive perspective, you by default, challenge those things, because they're born of an unjust disparity - racial injustice, gender identity injustice, etc. And that's how I see the world. And it kind of just explains things to me like House Bill 595. Why is that progressive? Well, because it challenges a power structure, which a conservative looks at and says, Eh! you're anti police! Why would you do that? And we look at it and say, Obviously, we're not. Absolutely, obviously we're not, we're just pro justice. We want everybody to enjoy equality. What do you think about that?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 30:03
Well there's, there's definitely something to it. And I think, when you talk about conservative paradigms, and cons- and and existing power structures, there are folks who want to actively feed those, actively maintain them, because they benefit from those. And then there are folks who just don't want to, there's a spectrum, right.
Rob Icsezen 30:21
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 30:21
In all things. Here's the engineer saying nothing is black and white.
Rob Icsezen 30:25
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 30:27
In all things there's a spectrum. And so you'll have some folks who are actively forwarding this, maintain- maintaining the current power structure. And I think you see that movement with our, with our federal administration. And...
Rob Icsezen 30:41
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 30:42
...that's what that is all about. That's not "Make America Great Again" that's, that's "Keep White People in Power."
Rob Icsezen 30:47
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 30:50
And so you have that, but at at many other levels, it's either, it's either passive complicity, or, or just not even thinking about it. "I benefit from it, I don't really think I've been- you know, I worked every day in my life, I had to work for everything I have." People say that all the time. And I can say that, I had to work for what I have. But I, I started from a, from a good position. And I'm faced with a set of social and economic structures that that favor me because I'm a white guy, you know. So I, I recognize that maybe I had to put some hard work in, but there are certain structures in place that made it possible for me to advance more easily than if I had been born a poor child of color.
Rob Icsezen 31:37
Yeah. And I think that that, what you just said, is precisely the dividing line along the political spectrum right now.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 31:46
I think so.
Rob Icsezen 31:46
Some people, some people will hear what you just said and say, Absolutely not, that's totally wrong! That's "playing the race card" or whatever they want to say. And then the other half of people - actually I think it's probably more than half [laughing] - but the other half are just nodding their heads and saying, Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's obv- not just true, but obviously true!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 32:06
Yeah. So that's, that's the role for me. If I was able to advance my position, to the point where I now have the ability to step in and try and do something about correcting these structures, if you're not, if you're not advocating, if you're just living with the way that it is, you are not helping society advance as a whole. So I feel it's incumbent on on people like me to step in and and do what we can.
Rob Icsezen 32:37
Okay, great. So so let's, let's get back to the weeds a little bit here. I love the 30,000 foot stuff. That's where I live! [laughing] But we need to go back to the weeds a little bit. A couple bills, SB 17, the "license to discriminate bill" that's dead, right? (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=SB17)
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 32:54
Yes. So it took some work to kill that stuff, though. You know, I mean, it ended up getting killed on a point of order in the House by Representative Julie Johnson out of Dallas, who's one of my favorite human beings now. She is, she, was at Rinaldi's seat that she took?
Rob Icsezen 33:13
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 33:13
She flipped a district and one by more than 10 points and took out the person who had authored the previous "bathroom bill." (https://www.texasobserver.org/say-adios-to-matt-rinaldi-the-texas-lawmaker-who-called-ice-to-report-latino-protesters/)
Rob Icsezen 33:24
That's fantastic. I did not know that.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 33:24
So, an openly gay, lesbian woman brought her wife to the Capitol with her, was in all the, you know, parties, receptions, all that stuff, Hey, here's my wife! And and then comes in- into the House, replacing the person who authored the previous "bathroom bill." And she's the one that brought the point of order that killed SB 17, too. So Julie Johnson's a star! One of the originators of our brand new LGBT Caucus in the House (https://www.facebook.com/txlgbtqcaucus/). And even after killing the thing, it still, you know, it's like Night of the Living Dead (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jclhVKSC0Tk) or something, these things keep clawing back somehow. So in the Senate, they attach that language to something else, they tried to put through a couple of other bills to get those provisions working.
Rob Icsezen 34:10
So So procedurally, even if you kill a bill, like this SB 17, which which would have allowed discrimination, essentially, among professionals in Texas...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 34:20
Rob Icsezen 34:21
You kill that bill, they can then sneak it in as an amendment to another bill that's totally unrelated about school finance, or whatever, like infrastructure bill or something!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 34:30
Well, hopefully you can't do it on something totally unrelated. But you find, you can search for an appropriate vehicle.
Rob Icsezen 34:37
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 34:38
So if there's a bill that is related to it in some way, where you're not overly expanding the scope, then you may be able to amend your language on to another bill.
Rob Icsezen 34:48
So they tried that, and...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 34:49
They did try it and those things had to be killed, or those amendments got to, had to be stripped out also.
Rob Icsezen 34:55
So you worked on a couple other things that I think are worth mentioniung. There's a whole list of safety bills...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 35:04
School safety bills.
Rob Icsezen 35:05
Yeah, the school safety bills. And that's something that, of course, is fresh, unfortunately, in all of our heads right now, because of the recent mass shooting. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Beach_shooting) Unfortunately, this could have been recorded at any time and that statement would be true. (https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/)
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 35:18
Rob Icsezen 35:19
But most recently, the mass shooting that occurred, it's all fresh in our heads. But talk to us a little bit about what what you did on those bills.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 35:30
So that I had a suite of three bills. And they were, we filed them all together, so they're House Bills 2653 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB2653), 54 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB2654), and 55 (https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB2655). And I don't remember exactly which one is which one, but the three of them basically, were meant to address school safety around, around having the possibility that someone's going to come in with a gun and try and shoot, shoot up the place.
Rob Icsezen 35:54
And this is just, this is something that for me, my kids are doing "active shooter drills." I never did that.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:00
Rob Icsezen 36:00
And they, it is just... [sigh] it just hurts me in my gut every time I think about that.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:07
So I'm old enough to remember doing nuclear attack drills. [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 36:11
[laughing] Right! I'm of the generation that- there's a meme that went around. It's if you didn't do a nuclear attack drill, and you didn't do an intruder drill, as they call them...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:21
Rob Icsezen 36:22
Then you're my generation.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:23
Rob Icsezen 36:23
You came up in the 80s, which I did. But no, it's sad.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:27
So yeah, I did catch some flak from progressive groups about about bringing an active shooter bill. The I- my idea being that a mind a- an approach developed by cooler heads, experts on the topic, develop some best practices and get those disseminated to the professionals have to deal with these situations. So that first you can you can practice and be prepared for this horrible eventuality that that we just live with right now.
Rob Icsezen 36:59
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 36:59
So I would love to advance gun safety laws that are a little bit more progressive. You know, right now, I think it's understood that in a place like Texas and in the United States in general, you know, you have to take this one step at a time. The first step has to be around the background checks, around the mental stability of the people, you know, having those databases linked for background checks. So and and also having the database for terrorists link. So anyway, that's the national agenda. But this, until we get to a point where it's not a problem, if you fail to prepare, then more people will die. And that's just all there is to it.
Rob Icsezen 37:38
So let me ask you this, then. Is there a bill we could, just like 595, is there a statement bill in in the gun world, that should be passed?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 37:52
Rob Icsezen 37:54
I mean because- I get that it is a reality that mass shootings are happening right now. I get that that the solution, the long term solution, is through gun control in some way. And I also get that that's next to impossible in Texas right now.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 38:12
And in the country as a whole.
Rob Icsezen 38:13
And in the country as a whole, there's a lot of work to be done. But can't we be open about the intention to do so?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 38:21
That's a really good question. So it, I would in my heart of hearts, I want to say that there's a logical argument that things that they have done in other countries worked.
Rob Icsezen 38:32
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 38:32
You know, if you look at the examples of, of Israel, the example of Japan, of England and Australia, all those societies used to have prevalent guns on the street with everybody - well Israel maybe not so much - but the, in all cases, guns are very, very strictly controlled in those countries.
Rob Icsezen 38:56
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 38:56
And their death rates due to these sorts of things have have dropped to miniscule numbers.
Rob Icsezen 39:03
And that, I like that answer, because that is, it's a very engineering type answer.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 39:08
Rob Icsezen 39:08
No, it is! It's, Hey all right, I get what you're saying. But and, and in fact, there are examples of how to do this right. So yeah, there's a way to, to reinvent the mousetrap. I mean there's a way to do this. It's, but it's the the political ideology that you have to break.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 39:25
That's true. And and while I'm a true progressive, and I believe in those things, I also represent a 50/50 district.
Rob Icsezen 39:31
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 39:31
And I think that we have to deal with the reality that, especially given the discourse today, that that sort of problem has to be, has to be approached in, in in realistic terms first.
Rob Icsezen 39:46
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 39:47
And so the first the first steps are, are to make it more difficult for people who are criminal, people who have severe psychological defects, and people who are just plain terrorists, make it more difficult for these people to lay hands on guns.
Rob Icsezen 40:04
And that is a form of common sense- I mean, when when people say common sense gun control, I think that's a form of common sense gun control that, that is that is chipping away. I mean, that is...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 40:14
It's broadly popular too so...
Rob Icsezen 40:16
...and as we talked about in the in the education context, that's chipping away.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 40:19
Yeah, this is going to be one of the areas where my actual policy in real life isn't going to line up perfectly with with progressive ideals, because we got, we have more guns in this country than we have people.
Rob Icsezen 40:30
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 40:30
And so the engineer in me has a logistical problem with trying to collect those, especially from a folk- group of folks who are like, Over my damn dead body!
Rob Icsezen 40:39
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 40:40
So it's, it's not practicable, it's not approachable at this time.
Rob Icsezen 40:44
So let me ask you this, one more group of bills I wanted to ask you about before we come to an end here is, housing equity. That's something that's really important in Houston. And I know...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 40:55
And in my district, so we keep talking about my district, because that's who I'm hired to serve, the people of Texas and the people of my district...
Rob Icsezen 41:00
Absolutely, as you should! And and that's something you did work on this Session.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 41:05
It is. And the housing equity, the the discrimination around source of income, is a problem.
Rob Icsezen 41:15
What is that exactly? How does that work?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 41:17
What it is is people who get government assistance can be discriminated against by lenders, and by and by renters. So landlords and stuff. Now, it's illegal, technically, it's there's federal law against lenders who participate in FHA or HUD programs discriminating against people who are on assistance, federal assistance, but they do and there aren't resources, there aren't resources allocated to really chasing that down and ferreting it out. And and what's the word that I'm looking for? There aren't resources allocated to, to working that through the legal process.
Rob Icsezen 42:05
Yeah. So So an example then would be, I'm trying to get an apartment, and I'm on federal assistance of some kind. I go in, I fill out my application, the landlord looks at it, and the landlord rejects me.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 42:19
That's right, because part of your income comes from federal assistance.
Rob Icsezen 42:22
Because, for that reason, and of course, as we all know, it's hard to prove that kind of thing. The landlord's never going to say, I'm disapproving because you're on federal assistance, because that's outwardly illegal. There are other...
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 42:33
Actually, renters, apartment owners can say that.
Rob Icsezen 42:36
They can say that? Okay, I stand corrected!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 42:38
Yeah. Okay. So there is, and there was a specific bill that I brought to to end that, practice. It was, there's a prohibition right now, on cities and counties, there's a state prohibition on cities and counties not allowing them to create ordinances to prohibit to, to create ordinances making that practice illegal, right. So Harris County could try to pass a law, we could try and pass a law in, you know, an ordinance in Houston or Harris County that says you're not allowed to discriminate based on where someone's money comes from. There's a ban on that kind of ordinance right now. So this is the state subverting local control, and they call it "preemption." It's such a pretty word. "Preemption" is taking away your local rights.
Rob Icsezen 43:31
Isn't that kind of a- another version of SB 17? I mean, it's a right to discriminate.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 43:36
Rob Icsezen 43:36
Then that actually exists right now.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 43:38
And that exists. And it's been in place the, the Apartment Association, I'm not their favorite person, because I brought this, I certainly won't be their favorite person, because I'm talking about them right now.
Rob Icsezen 43:52
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 43:52
But they're the ones who pushed this. And they're the ones who killed that bill too, I'm quite sure. They give large donations to folks who are willing work with them. And happily, I'm not one of those people! [laughing]
Rob Icsezen 44:04
And so that died. So that, but that was something that you fought for. Yeah.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 44:09
Yeah, and it's just that exact kind of thing. So, this is discriminating against people because , We don't want "those" kind of people moved into "our" neighborhood or "our" apartments, or whatever.
Rob Icsezen 44:18
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 44:19
We should keep "those" folks delegate- relegated to areas where they "belong." And that is just bullshit.
Rob Icsezen 44:24
Absolutely. And so that, and that's work that did not get completed. But it moved the ball forward by being out there.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 44:32
Rob Icsezen 44:33
So as we bring this to an end, I always like to talk about a call to action among folks listening. Session is now over, or at least it's on the Governor's desk. Whether he should sign things. Session has come to a close - we, maybe we'll have a special session - but what can progressives, what should in your opinion, progressives do now? As we have finished Session, and we go into the election season prior to next session, what should we be focusing on? And how can we move the ball in Austin, while we're not legislating currently?
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 45:10
Let's do what we did in the last cycle. So I I got into politics, you know, a mechanical engineer gets into politics, I had never even run for anything before! I got into it because I was unhappy, upset about the way things were going and dissatisfied with the people who are representing us. And I hope that progressives out there still feel that way about some of their elected representatives not representing their values. And so what we need to do is flip a bunch more seats in this House. We should be active the same way we were. We got political activism, I feel like is at a generational high right now. As far as people being active in politics, calling their legislators when stuff is going on, you can still do that federally, organize in your precincts, organize in your neighborhoods, organize in your districts to get progressives elected, we got some more work to do, and we have some more seats to flip. And the time to start is already past. So we should be working on that actively. I will be working on keeping my seat and hopefully, we can, I'll be joined by another large freshman class of progressives.
Rob Icsezen 46:23
You know that, there's that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031679/). Your story is "Mr. Rosenthal goes to Austin"!
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 46:30
Exactly! [laughing] That's what it is.
Rob Icsezen 46:32
I like that. I think it's inspirational. And I think that your your call to action is well taken. People need to get involved across the board from the school board to the presidency.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 46:43
Rob Icsezen 46:44
We will be pushing that on this program. And we thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
Rep. Jon Rosenthal 46:48
Awesome, I'm happy to be here. Thank you so much.
Rob Icsezen 46:50
Next week we're going to talk about the challenge of environmental resilience in Houston with the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, Dr. Bakeyah Nelson (https://airalliancehouston.org/). Hope you'll join us!
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