This weekend I attended the Texas Tribune Festival, a public policy forum hosted by the non-profit newspaper, the TexasTribune. I have been reading Texas Tribune since my freshman year in college. I attended a talk by Evan Smith, the CEO and President of the newspaper, earlier in the spring, when he was at the Communications School to talk about non-profit journalism. Evan has a hilarious personality. He has a way to diffuse tensions on politically sensitive topics. He has been an effective leader and visionary for the Tribune; Texas is fortunate to have people like Evan to preserve what is left of journalism as a means to ensure political accountability.
The Festival kicked off Friday night with Governor Rick Perry talking about the Satan…and how faith-based folks need to be involved in politics. Despite dodging many questions, I thought the Governor handled the forum really well - cracking jokes at the right time to diffuse tension in the room. When Evan asked the Governor at the onset where he would like to sit on stage, Perry told him, “I’ll be on your right. Evan, I will ALWAYS be on your right.” Or when the Governor referred to Austin as a “blueberry inside a red tomato soup.” The Governor has a natural charisma that is not apparent if you paid attention to him during his unsuccessful Presidential campaign.
My key takeaways:
- The Governor clarified on his position on in-state tuition for undocumented students by defending the fact that the decision was a consequent “aftermath” of a federal government that fails to defend the border; and as the Governor, he and the legislature had to deal with it, and the legislature voted nearly unanimously for it back in 2001, save four dissenting votes
- The Governor called for four-year tuition lock for incoming students at all public universities. He also cited the number of institutions (9 going 10 - I need to fact check this) that had successfully created a $10,000 degree
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to ask Julian Castro and Ted Cruz a question at a forum titled “The Future of Texas Politics.” I asked about how they would address the skyrocketing cost of higher education and student loan debt in a dismal job market where close to half of college graduates can’t find good paying jobs. Castro basically told me to not worry about it because education in a 21st century global economy is so important, so I should not be afraid to take out loans (speaking like a true liberal). Thankfully, my private scholarships and my parents have graciously been funding my education, but I know many of my peers rely on student loans to attend college. But taking out thousands of dollars of loans to attend UT and possibly not find a job in four years is an indictment against higher education. If we truly care about higher ed, then we need have a serious conversation about cost and quality. I’ll be the first one to say that college is not for everyone. We need to be innovative offering different options for future students to obtain a degree and be successful in the workforce.
Other forums like the ones on Family Planning and Voter ID got intense and heated, but overall it has been an informative weekend. I hope more and more Texans would pay attention to some of these issues that have a long-term policy effect on all Texans - I’ll admit that state politics is not as front-and-center as national politics, but it is nonetheless important. We need to ask ourselves what kind of state do we want to live in? What kind of environments should we foster to maintain our stellar record of economic growth? What are the challenges we face along the way? How can we best keep our legislators accountable to Texans? We need to think about the future.