Do you find yourself listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack and re-watching your favorite episodes of “The West Wing?” If so, you may just be an American in search of a social and political norm that has been living in your distant memory – but that “normal time” may be around the corner. Soon, President Trump will have to step aside for President-elect Biden and our country will do what we do best, show the world the beauty of our democracy. The people vote and those who put themselves out for elected office plan for the transition of power.
Luckily, I was re-elected by my largest margins ever (thank you, by the way) and our office is planning for the most difficult session in many years. We’re in transition time, but it’s a transition away from the cuts and bruises of politics and moves onto the hooks and jabs of lawmaking in the Texas Legislature. The fact that I’m using boxing analogies with a bit of a violent twist is telling, but give me some time – I’ll get there. Believe me, I am prepared to work with my political opponents and make sure I’m finding commonalities rather than angling for a fight. The canyon tearing this country apart has manifested in Texas and I’m exhausted by it all.
The fact that over 11 million Texans voted was impressive and that surge of interest should result in the Legislature making significant inroads on the challenges ahead. Those challenges will nearly all be seen through the historic and jarring nature of the horrible year 2020 has been. Everything we do at the Legislature will be viewed through the prism of the impact of COVID-19.
Texas is currently looking at a budget deficit of approximately $4.6 billion, thanks to the effects of a drop in the demand for oil and gas and a major reduction in sales taxes. The issues surrounding housing affordability are now on the front burner as more Texans in economic distress will find themselves on the edge of homelessness. The chronic homeless problem will only grow worse if we don’t work together to support Texans untethered from supports and quite possibly wracked with health ailments, including mental health and addiction. The number of Texans without health insurance has only grown as a result of the recession as Texans who relied upon health care from a job that no longer exists. With this in mind, I will be working toward the expansion of Medicaid so more working Texans qualify for help and get back on their feet.
Despite the budget crisis, we must reaffirm our commitment to Texas children and families and protect the gains we made with House Bill 3 last session. We allocated $6 billion in new general revenue to help our public school children succeed. Texas has historically left our public schools out to dry as the first budget item cut when we are faced with challenging economic times. We simply cannot repeat the mistakes Texas made in 2011 after the last recession. Schools had to make harsh budget cuts that negatively affected children and those who care for them.
I’ve met with school administrators and I’ve listened to the challenges. We must support parents, kids and teachers through these stressful times. Schools had to completely redesign how we teach children in a matter of weeks. We thought we would be past the critical phase of teaching in the midst of COVID, but the reality is the budget pressures are real, the adjustments are difficult, and the state of Texas must find a way to support our local schools.
I firmly believe we cannot afford to let this session pass without passing legislation that will address the racial and economic inequities that exist. We can reform police practices without disrespecting those women and men who have been doing a good job serving in law enforcement.
And after the drama surrounding our elections process, we also need to take another look at online voter registration. There is no good reason for us not to adopt this practice to allow Texans to safely, securely and correctly register to vote. Legislation is also being drafted to allow counties to do what counties do – run fair and efficient elections for us.
There’s no doubt the political divisions have been leaving their mark on the American corpus. Rising above it will be difficult, but as I often remind myself and my colleagues, there is a time for politics and there is a time for policy. With politics now in the rearview mirror, it is our job as elected officials to set aside differences and come together to do good things for the love of Texas.
I’m honored to have been re-elected. It truly is a wonderful ride I’ve been on to represent the people of House District 50 for three sessions as I now enter my fourth and probably most challenging. But I’m up for the challenge. I have a great full-time staff who works for us all every day, my family continues to support my love of public service and allow me to make the sacrifice to serve, and as they say in “Hamilton,” “I’m not throwing away my shot.”
Onward – for the love of Texas.
Rep. Celia Israel represents House District 50, which includes Pflugerville. Follow her on Twitter @celiaisrael, or like her on Facebook at fb.com/CeliaIsraelTX.