Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Toby Stock, vice president of development and academic programs at the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at UT on Wednesday about issues he believes are directing America’s future toward a decline.

American Enterprise Institute is a conservative, nonprofit institution created to research political issues. Stock is also the former assistant dean for Harvard Law School admissions and an associate at McKinsey & Company. Stock said he thinks the conflict between Republicans and Democrats stems from both parties being more focused on their own opinions rather than what is going on in America.

“I think today’s gridlock is caused by the fact that today’s parties are less regional and more ideological,” Stock said.

He said the reason there is always a standstill on Capitol Hill is because of the constant antithesis of America’s bipartisan nature.

“When one party wants to decrease the size of government, and the other wants to increase the size of government, it’s hard to find a compromise,” Stock said.

According to Stock, liberals are more likely to unfriend those who do not share their political views on Facebook than conservatives. He also said 43 percent of Republicans say they have a “very unfavorable” view of the liberal opinion while over half of liberals share a similar dislike for conservative opinion. Stock said he is worried about the increasing polarization of the political parties and what that might to do for American success.

“One of the biggest risks to face is the unwillingness to accept that the other side has a legitimate answer,” Stock said. “Somehow, we need to help our policy makers understand the other side.”

Stock said if people were working at the rates that they were during the Eisenhower administration, America would have 20 million more people in the workforce today. He also said that the employment to population rate stands at 59 percent, which is nearly the lowest rate in the past 30 to 40 years.

Adam Blum, a member of the American Enterprise Institute chapter in Austin, said it was important that America has a free enterprise system to encourage success.

“Whatever the environment presents, whether it is super partisan, highly regulated, or even if we disagree with [an opinion], there are new opportunities that conflict creates,” Blum said.

Stock concluded his lecture with a story about him and an unnamed senator in Washington D.C. The senator asked him to come by his office to talk after an election. Stock said the senator asked him what the Republicans wanted.

“The next office over is a Republican office,” Stock said. “All he has to do is walk down the hall and talk to one of his colleagues.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

In poll data released last week, the Pew Research Center reported 61 percent of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party aged 18 to 29 favor the legal marriage of same-sex couples, as opposed to the 27 percent aged 50 and older.

College Republicans, a conservative student group on campus, adheres to the official ideology of the GOP, according to Zach Berberich, accounting junior and communications director for the organization. Berberich said students coming into UT tend to have a high respect for individual liberty.

“College students tend to come in with really libertarian viewpoints,” Berberich said. “A lot of students think it’s not the government’s job to intervene at all in marriage. A lot of us tend to say ‘it’s not our business. As long as it’s not hurting us, then let it be.’”

Steph Salazar, social work sophomore and co-community relations chair of Queer People of Color and Allies, said she hasn’t seen a major shift in conservative opinion. 

“I’ve noticed a change in my lifetime, but I don’t see the conservative community as a total ally to the LGBTQ community,” Salazar said. “While certain conservative folks are doing a great job as queer advocates individually, overarching legislation about the well-being of queer bodies in this country says otherwise.”

Cody Jo Bankhead, broadcast journalism senior and communications director for the UT chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas, said the organization doesn’t have an official stance on the issue of same-sex marriage.

The increase in social liberalism within young Republican groups also extends to same-sex adoption. The poll reports that 18 percent of conservatives under 30 and 59 percent for conservatives aged 50 and up consider same-sex couples raising children as “bad for society.”

Michelle Willoughby, government junior and communications director for University Democrats, said she can see the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide from her interactions with political groups at UT.

“In past debates with College Republicans, we’ve definitely seen them take a more favorable stance towards the LGBT community than their party does as a whole,” Willoughby said. “I think that the fact that young people on both sides of the aisle are finding some common ground of this issue shows that legalizing gay marriage is going to happen sooner or later.”

Republicans widened their majority in the Texas House of Representatives, taking 22 seats from Democrats Tuesday night.

The 99 Republicans and 51 Democrats in the new state house must balance the budget, bearing the burden of a deficit that could be as high as $25 million. Texas Republican Party spokesman Chris Elam said the “seismic” shift is even more dramatic than what the U.S. saw in the national house.

“It’s a shift that is historic not just in Texas but in national history,” Elam said. “It’s hard to over appreciate the gravitas of this situation. With a 100-50 in the house, conservative principles are the name of the game now.”

Republicans and Democrats disagreed on the reasons for the massive gains. Republicans touted grassroots campaigning and strong conservative Texas values, while Democrats suggested that Republicans simply rode the wave of anti-Washington sentiment that has swept the country in the past few months.

“From the top to the bottom of the ballot, Texas Republicans have run against Obama,” said Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray. “They have talked about Obama and Pelosi. We don’t know a thing about their priorities in Texas or their plans for the $25 billion deficit.”

Central Texas saw several Republicans take seats from Democrats, including Valinda Bolton’s loss to Paul Workman in District 47, Jason Isaac’s victory over Patrick Rose in District 45 and Larry Gonzales’ 20-point win over freshman incumbent Diana Maldonado in District 52. Democrat Donna Howard kept her seat in District 48 by only 15 votes.

“In the Texas house, Republicans had a better night than many were predicting,” said UT public affairs lecturer Sherri Greenberg. “There were a lot of races in play in the Texas house, up to 25 or so. Some of these seats in Travis County and Central Texas were Republican seats that Democrats held onto, and those Democrats like Patrick Rose had real opponents in a big Republican year.”

Rose, a seven-year incumbent, said he is proud of his work in the house during his terms, and he hopes Isaac continues to prioritize District 45. Isaac said his top priorities include balancing the budget to cut spending without raising taxes, improving benefits for public school teachers and hot legislative issues such as promoting concealed carry on college campuses.

“It’s about getting back to fiscal responsibility, working with budget problems we have and cutting spending,” Isaac said. “I want us to be the model. I want businesses to aspire to be as efficient as the Texas state government.”

Legislative topics such as concealed carry and immigration are likely to see much more time on the house floor with such a strong conservative majority, Greenberg said. However, she, like Republican and Democratic candidates and representatives, said tackling the state’s budget deficit must be a top priority.

“It’s going to be a tough budget year, there has never been any doubt about that,” Greenberg said. “But there is certainly going to be much more pressure on not raising taxes because that’s the platform people were running on. That’s a tough situation when you’re looking at more than $21 billion in the hole.”

Texas Republicans recognize the responsibility they have to the Texans who elected them and will act on that mandate to return Texas to conservative principles, Elam said.

“This is like being given the keys to the car, and it’s time to put up or shut up in terms of what we’re going to stand for in policy and the future of our state,” Elam said. “Because in the future of our nation, Texas is going to lead the way.”