State Rep. Mark Strama, an Austin Democrat known for his work on education and clean-technology issues, announced on Wednesday that he had resigned to lead Google Fiber’s operations in Austin. His resignation became effective on Wednesday at midnight, as the special legislative session came to a dramatic close.
Google announced in April that it had chosen Austin as the second city to try out Google Fiber, its high-speed internet project. Strama will manage and advocate for Google Fiber when he starts in his new role in three weeks, he said.
The project “puts Austin on the national and international map,” he said, citing its potential to jumpstart entrepreneurship and business.
Google Fiber is not Strama’s first round in the internet and technology fields. In 1999, Strama founded NewVoter.com, which allowed citizens to fill out their voter registration online. It facilitated more than 700,000 voter registrations in the 2000 election after being acquired by Election.com in 2000.
NewVoter.com “opened me up to the transformative power of the Internet,” he said. Google Fiber’s high-speed internet has the potential to be just as transformative as the original internet, he added.
Strama said one of his interests in the new job was Google Fiber’s potential for developing education in Austin, a topic on which he has been vocal in the Legislature. Strama also owns four Austin-area Sylvan Learning centers, a national franchise that offers test preparation and tutoring services.
“Just the fact that they wanted to know [about] that made me excited about the job,” he said.
The resignation puts to rest speculation that Strama, a five-term representative who had declared in February that he would not run for re-election, would seek the Austin mayorship. Although he admitted he had considered a run, Strama insisted that what he was looking for in Austin’s next mayor was “not me."
“Google Fiber has the power to be even more transformative in scale,” Strama said. “That has an impact even beyond the city I live in.”
Strama, who served as a longtime aide to state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, prior to becoming a lawmaker himself, did not rule out a return to politics, though “I would be surprised,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone leave politics and come back successfully,” he added.
Strama said four candidates had already emerged to run for his vacant legislative seat, which will be filled in a special election in the near future. Democrat Celia Israel, a longtime political activist, announced her campaign on Wednesday, applauding Strama’s “next effort to push us towards the future” while condemning Republicans for trying to push a vote on a restrictive abortion bill past the midnight bell.
“I congratulate Mark on his new endeavor with Google and take inspiration from their ability to think big and act boldly to position our community as a leader in the global economy,” she said. “It’s an attitude that stands in stark contrast to a legislature controlled by extremists who deny the science of evolution, the science of climate change, and as we saw last night, even the fundamentals of how a clock works.”
Despite the chaotic close of his last legislative session, Strama said he was positive about the future of Texas politics.
“People find it easy to get frustrated,” he said, adding that some of the disagreements in the Capitol were to be expected given the differing backgrounds and ideologies of representatives and senators.
“If you look at the entire arc of history, things get better here,” he said.