Texans

Students hoping to influence legislation during the upcoming legislative session may have an additional avenue to work through thanks to a new bipartisan caucus.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, announced Friday the formation of the Young Texans Legislative Caucus in the Texas House of Representatives. The caucus will track and promote legislation affecting the 58 percent of Texans below the age of 40. In the Texas Legislature, caucuses serve as bodies around which members can organize to address the needs of a specific party, group or demographic.

Johnson, 37, said the caucus will create an organization through which young people, including college students, can voice their concerns and ideas on policies being discussed in the Legislature.

“This new caucus will serve as a natural outlet for student organizations seeking to directly engage with the legislature,” Johnson said. “The 1.4 million Texans in our higher education system are overwhelmingly a part of our target age demographic and we will be reaching out to student groups across the state after we get the caucus organized.”

Preston Covington, director of UT Student Government’s state relations agency, said he welcomes the announcement of the new caucus especially as Student Government prepares to play an active role in advocating for student issues during the upcoming legislative session.

“This will serve as another avenue that we will use to reach out and inform representatives about the issues we face,” Covington said.

Student Government, the Senate of College Councils, the Graduate Student Assembly and 25 other student organizations plan to organize students to lobby the Legislature through the “Invest in Texas” campaign — a nonpartisan program designed to advocate for adequate higher education funding.

The YTLC will be open to any representative 40 years old or younger or any representative who represents a district in which the percentage of those younger than 40 surpasses the state percentage. A total of 94 out of the 150 representatives are eligible to join the caucus through one of the two requirements, according to Johnson’s chief of staff Juan Ayala.

The YTLC will join the ranks of caucuses such as the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Johnson pointed to specific issues such as education, infrastructure and management of natural resources that he hopes the new caucus can address on behalf of young Texans. He said he was motivated to create the caucus after looking at the composition of the state and House of Representatives.

“Nearly 6 in 10 Texans are 40 years of age or younger, and that demographic definitely deserves to have a stronger voice in our legislative deliberations,” Johnson said. “When I looked at the makeup of the House, I realized we had a solid core of younger members that we could organize around.”

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: New caucus created for young Texans

Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry pauses during a news conference in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, where he announced he is suspending his campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich. His son Griffin is at left.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Following his failed presidential bid, Governor Rick Perry’s approval ratings have fallen below President Obama’s among Texans, according to a new phone survey.

The Austin American-Statesman, the San Antonio Express-News, the Houston Chronicle and several other publications commissioned a randomized survey of 806 Texans, conducted Jan. 21 to Jan 24. by Blum & Weprin Associates Inc. Forty percent of Texans approved of Perry’s job performance while 43 percent of Texans approved of President Obama’s job performance.

The survey also found 37 percent of Texans think Perry’s presidential bid has made their own view of Perry less favorable, and 53 percent of Texans believe Perry should not run for re-election in 2014. Forty-five percent of Texans believe Perry’s presidential bid has damaged America’s image of Texas either a little (20 percent) or a lot (25 percent). The margin of error was listed at 3.5 percent.

“You can’t go on the road for five months and perform poorly for four of those months and it not have an effect on your image,” said Ben Philpott, senior reporter for KUT-FM Radio, who has been following Perry since his first campaign for governor. “He didn’t do well, people knew he didn’t do well and it’s in the back of peoples’ heads when they are asking about approval in a poll like this.”

Perry’s second lowest approval rating came in 2010, when 44 percent of registered voters approved of Perry’s job performance and 38 percent disapproved. The first survey in the 10-year series, conducted in 2002, put Perry’s highest approval ratings at 65 percent of registered voters.

His influence in the next legislative session is yet to be seen, Philpott said, and his poor performance on the national stage may alter his role within the Texas government.

“His relationship with the legislature could certainly change,” Philpott said. “He could attempt to come back and reclaim whatever role he had in the last session, or the legislature could decide that he’s not going to lead the charge. We haven’t begun to hear from lawmakers about what they are going to accept in terms of guidance.”

Perry can still repair his image in Texas in the coming weeks, despite the lack of interest in the GOP race, Philpott said.

“He’s going to start giving speeches next week, and rolling out platform,” Philpott said.

“He’ll start being the governor again and not just a candidate. He has time to do things that will get people back on his side, but I think we still have to see if lawmakers are interested in him reasserting his role. But there’s plenty of time.”

However, Perry election spokesman Ray Sullivan said he thinks lowered poll numbers will not change Perry’s role in government.

“Governor Perry leads based on his conservative philosophy and what is best for Texas jobs and quality of life, not poll numbers,” Sullivan said. “In 2009, some polls shows him far behind but he went on to defeat strong Republican and Democratic challengers by wide margins.”

Sullivan said the presidential bid has helped Texas’s image around the country, despite the low approval rating.

“The presidential campaign let even more Americans know about Texas’ pro-job climate, great quality of life and culture of fiscal responsibility,” Sullivan said.

College Republicans president and government senior Cassie Wright said she thinks the poor ratings did not affect Perry’s record within the state of Texas.

“The past few months have not changed his outstanding economic record in the state of Texas,” Wright said. “We elected Governor Perry based on his successes and his ability to lead; neither his track record nor competence has changed.”

Every campaign needs a premise. For Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, the premise is the “Texas Miracle” — the idea that Texas is dodging the “Great Recession” because of his unparalleled leadership. For all his braggadocio about keeping Texans employed, Perry can’t hide behind the tough statistics released by the Census Bureau this week. One out of every five Texans lives in poverty — the sixth highest rate in the nation — while our poverty rate grew faster than the national average in the past year.

How is this even possible for a state that boasted one of the highest job creation rates in the nation? Perry can rightfully boast of one key statistic: Since he’s been in office, Texas has netted one million new jobs, according to CNN. It’s the type of jobs created that are troublesome.

Most of the new jobs created during the Perry administration have been low-level, low-wage positions. There are twice as many employees making minimum wage now than there were in 2008, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in March. The implications are catastrophic — Texas is now tied for the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in the country.

With this information, the seemingly paradoxical positive correlation between job creation and poverty is suddenly logical. Middle class workers have been laid off, and rather than face unemployment, many chose jobs below their pay grade. The squeezing of the middle class is increasing the gap between rich and poor, and the repercussions affect everyone. Many young adults who receive their first minimum-wage paycheck are dumbfounded by how little they make, and find themselves wondering how some families manage to support themselves on the same wages. Unfortunately, this situation is all-too familiar for many Longhorns.

For the about 20 percent of UT students whose families make under $40,000 annually, coping with day-to-day expenses, let alone tuition, is grueling. For a family that makes $40,000 a year, $10,000 is an overwhelming amount to pay for school. True, most of these students receive financial aid, but there is more than just tuition to pay for — books and housing can easily match the price of tuition in a given year. Moreover, neither minimum wage positions nor the state provides health benefits, so students are often unable to get medical care while away from home, worried about the financial impact on their parents.

Students with parents in dire economic straits frequently feel pressured to take on part time jobs in addition to their schoolwork to help subsidize the high cost of education. These extra responsibilities can impede the force of education a student would otherwise receive, as they are unable to take on unpaid, valuable internships, participate in extracurricular activities or take on leadership roles.

Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg laments the Texas policies that put Texans in poverty. Instead of enacting legislation to support the unemployed and underemployed, “We have been putting in place policies that make it worse,” Klineberg told the Houston Chronicle. One of the best ways to help citizens out of poverty is to educate them through college, but state legislation passed this year drastically cut funding for education. The budget cuts perpetuate poverty in the long term by failing to provide motivated students a means to higher education, creating a veritable circle of poverty.

Some may argue that people employed at minimum wage should be satisfied with the mere fact that they are employed, but this line of thinking is damaging both to the American psyche and economy. Minimum wage jobs may decrease unemployment rates in the short term, but they inhibit healthy growth of the Texas economy into innovative sectors. The “Texas Miracle” of job creation may be something to brag about this year, but poverty in Texas is a hurdle that will take much longer to overcome without new legislation enhancing financial aid for students, support for the unemployed and underemployed and incentives for high-wage employment.

Katsounas is a business and government sophomore.