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Lawmakers from Dallas Prepare for Uphill Battles in Austin and Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers have arrived in Austin to begin the 88th Texas Legislature.
Lawmakers have arrived in Austin to begin the 88th Texas Legislature. Wikicommons
For lawmakers from Dallas in both Austin and Washington, D.C., the early weeks of January mean gathering with their colleagues and preparing for a unique type of battle. Last week proved to be a highly active one for first-term U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Texas’ 30th District.

She attended her first leadership meeting, took part in a Founders Day celebration for her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, along with several other congresswomen, and was interviewed on television. She says the highlight of her first week in the U.S. Congress was something she should’ve been able to take for granted.

Remember the wild scenes from the 15 rounds of voting for speaker of the house? She was there. Crockett, who is succeeding longtime Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, voted for fellow Democrat Hakeem Jeffries each time, while her Republican counterparts squabbled among themselves for four days before eventually electing Kevin McCarthy as the speaker.

“Crazy enough, it was actually getting sworn in,” Crockett said when asked what the top moment of her week in Washington had been. “I didn't think the biggest hurdle I would have to overcome would be getting sworn in.”

Crockett admits the ordeal of the speaker vote soured things for her, but she was glad that she and other Democrats in the House “showed the country that the Democrats are the adults in the room and we are ready to work,” she said.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t come to Congress to score points on my opponents, though,” she said. “I came to Congress to work for the people, but the idea that there was this historic breakdown in the functioning of our institution was a huge disappointment.”

Of course, storylines abound when House members first arrive in D.C. at the beginning of a new term. For a Democrat in the U.S. House, now controlled by Republicans, it’s difficult to see past the headlines of the past few months that have foreshadowed the coming year for lawmakers.

“I didn't think the biggest hurdle I would have to overcome would be getting sworn in.” – U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett

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Crockett looks forward to addressing voting rights and gun control laws, issues she’s passionate about. She’s concerned about a possible attempt to reduce access to Social Security. And she said she “fully anticipates the government will be shut down due to disruption from the Republican party.”

Crockett also believes issues revolving around the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade will be front and center, and sooner rather than later. To her, that’s particularly notable because she represents the district where then-Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade worked as he unsuccessfully argued to keep abortion illegal in 1973. In addition, Crockett’s groundbreaking predecessor, Eddie Bernice Johnson, was a passionate advocate for the cause.

“Sadly enough,” she said, “I think we’re going to spend a lot of time in this session trying to officially roll back on reproductive rights.”

Meanwhile, Austin was also bustling with the fervor of a new state legislative session last week, and Sen. Nathan Johnson of Dallas says he hit the ground running.

“It’s good to get back into town and see those who are your friends and those you’ll be working with and even against at times, for the next 20 weeks,” he said. “I’ve been in office for four years now, and I’m a lot more involved in things. There are certain issues that are a lot more active, like the grid. There’s a lot of work to be done before we’re really set in our direction on issues like that, though.”

And if that weren’t enough for the lawmakers in Austin to debate, Johnson predicts that the fate of the newly announced $33 billion state budget surplus will define this session.

“There are things that I’m hopeful about and things that really concern me,” he said. “I feel both hopeful and concerned about the massive amount of money we have that was not available in the past. My concerns revolve around a divisive social agenda, geared at a Republican primary, will suck all of the oxygen out of the room and prevent us from doing the hard work that’s necessary to wisely invest or otherwise appropriate the money to the benefit of the state.”

Johnson is looking forward to seeing bills he’s authored get some attention. Among them are a bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips, which Johnson says can help save lives, and one designed to provide paid parental leave to Texas teachers.

“There are things that I’m hopeful about and things that really concern me.” – Texas State Senator Nathan Johnson

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Venton Jones, a freshman state representative, made headlines as an openly gay candidate who is also HIV-positive. He says he felt a great deal of pride in being sworn in to represent District 100, an area he says he was born and raised in.

Like Johnson, Jones also views the budget surplus as something that can do a lot of good and be used for healthcare, increasing teacher pay, property tax relief for renters and owners, and repairing infrastructure. He said he will also “fight against legislation that will harm communities of color, LGBTQ individuals and their familes, and the rights of all Texas to have equal access to the ballot box.” Another topic of interest is one he has seen affect his district firsthand.

“One area that is particularly important in my district is affordable housing during this record time of inflation in the economy,” Jones said. “Rep. Yvonne Davis has refiled HB 1189, which caps appraisal values on homes in high-growth and development areas to prevent the displacement of existing residents who often are lower-income and have been there for generations. This is a common-sense and bipartisan bill that I hope my colleagues can get behind and support.”

With an understanding that what they do now can impact their constituents for years to come, Crockett, Johnson and Jones seem hopeful, even if as Democrats, many of their battles will likely be uphill ones in their respective, Republican-controlled bodies. Senator Johnson sums up the issues and questions facing lawmakers in 2023 by addressing the future.

“There’s this massive, massive question of how do we prepare Texas for the future?” he says. “What are we going to do now that people will thank us for in 30 years? That’s the defining question because we have the resources to make the investments at that scale and level of benefit to the state. Or, we can sit around and have petty arguments about social issues.”
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Kelly Dearmore

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