Because the laws in this country are supposed to reflect the consensus of the people, the Texas Capitol keeps its doors open to the public so state legislators can hear the grievances of their constituents.
Going to your representative is only one of the ways that regular citizens can impact the legislature. Everyday citizens can foster change through political activism within advocacy groups or campaigns, propose bills to their representative or run for office.
So, when one of our readers asked us, “How do we get involved with the legislature and creating policy without having a law degree?” we looked into it as part of Curious Capitol, a series where we answer reader-submitted questions.
Susan Nold, director of UT’s Annette Strauss Institute, formerly worked as a legislative aid and general counsel for State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. Nold said good ways to begin participating in the legislative process include knowing the best representative to properly address issues and what resources are available to citizens, such as the Texas Legislature website.
“Do your homework,” Nold said. “Take time to consider how your own personal life is impacted by the decisions made by policy makers and become knowledgeable on that topic.”
State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston and UT engineering alumnus, said the results of the 2016 election propelled him into political activism. Rosenthal said he started by forming a local chapter of Indivisible, a progressive advocacy group.
“Along the way, I was learning more about what our state legislature was doing and I became really dramatically concerned about the under-funding of our schools,” Rosenthal said. “It was then that I decided to run for office.”
Regardless of prior experience, Rosenthal said he would recommend citizens start by joining advocacy groups and eventually consider running for a position as he did.
“I felt like our government would benefit from having people serve from all walks of life,” Rosenthal said.
State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Keller, who was originally in the business and technology field, also said that the government benefits from participation by people from a diverse background.
“There is so much value when you have a diverse group of folks all participating in the conversation,” Capriglione said. “It is great to have people my age doing it and people older than me doing it, but I also think it is great to have students and their perspectives.”
State Rep. John Bucy, D-Cedar Park and Austin native, said he recommends students getting started in political engagement today. Similarly to Capriglione, Bucy did not graduate with a law degree and was a small business owner before entering the political realm.
“The message we try to relay to students is we have to get involved immediately,” Bucy said. “We are not supposed to wait our turn, and you should be fighting for your seat at the table now.”