Houston-area Democratic Reps. Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman joined The Texas Tribune on Tuesday at Texas Southern University to discuss issues ranging from public education to sexual harassment at the Capitol.
Here’s what they had to say:
The state’s public education system has – for too long – used “Band-Aid” repairs. Both representatives agreed the Legislature has fallen short of creating an effective public education system. The state’s public education system is in need of a more long-lasting fix, according to the representatives. “The system, itself, has got to be revised,” Thierry said. “I represent students right now that barely have textbooks in their cabinets.” Thierry was speaking about students from the Houston Independent School District, which she said has more than 80 percent of its students on reduced or free-lunch programs.
But how can the state do more than “Band-Aid” repairs? The state needs to increase funding in the public education system, according to the representatives. Thierry said the money used for “unnecessary” border patrol security should be rerouted to public education, while Coleman said it would be best to temporarily divert money from voter-approved highway transportation funds.
“The answer is still to put more money in the system in order to appropriately fund public education,” Coleman said. “But there is not a will to do that particularly from the Senate, and there’s not a will to do that from the governor.”
The state’s maternal mortality rate is an issue. Texas moms, and especially black mothers, are dying at alarming rates. Known for her bills addressing maternal mortality, Thierry said it’s an issue the state needs to take on more directly. She cites socioeconomic factors and implicit bias as some of the reasons behind the high rates of maternal mortality in the state.
“Women of color are still being discounted when they are getting treatment from their practitioners,” she said. The state needs to do more than just continue to collect data about these rates, she said.
“Right now, in real time, women are dying.”
Upcoming Texas primaries. The legislators hope more Texas voters will show up to the polls in March. Thierry said she hoped the national political scene and discontent over the Trump administration will prompt younger voters to get more active in Texas politics. Adding to that comment, Coleman said he hoped Democrats could sweep more seats in the upcoming election as the prospect of choosing a new House speaker looms over the state.
Sexual assault allegations at the Capitol. The Texas Legislature is looking into changing its procedures for how people can report allegations of sexual assault at the Capitol. Both legislators agreed that a push for change like what's happening nationwide was long overdue. Coleman said he hoped victims of sexual assault would begin reporting allegations to the local district attorney. But Thierry said many instances of workplace harassment don’t reach the level of criminal behavior, meaning the Legislature should also have a place for victims to bring “non-criminal” accusations.
For the first time in a public format, Thierry also opened up about her own sexual harassment experience when she was in her 20s and working for a law firm. “It was a horrible experience,” she said. “It changed the course of my life, but here I am today as a sitting state representative.”
Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, who in December was accused of sexual misconduct in a story by the Daily Beast, was originally slated to be a participant in the conversation. He pulled out at the last minute due to a “scheduling conflict.”