A UT professor is running for state representative in House District 50, saying he seeks to end “political meddling” from the state in University affairs when in office.
UT lecturer Ramey Ko will be running in March for a seat formerly held by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who stepped down in June to head Google Fiber’s operations in Austin. The district encompasses parts of Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville and Manor.
A lawyer and municipal court judge, Ko teaches a course on Asian Americans and the law in the Center for Asian American Studies.
Born in Denton, Texas to Taiwanese immigrants, Ko said his first political act was at the age of 11 when he sent a three-page letter to President George H.W. Bush asking him to do more to protect the environment.
Although UT’s campus is not located in HD 50, Ko said the University is a “crown jewel” for Travis County and many Austin residents are in HD 50. Ko said budget cuts and increasing tuition rates are issues he hopes to combat by running for office.
Public funding to UT made up 47 percent of the school's budget in 1984. In 2012, it made up 17 percent of the budget. Average in-state tuition per semester has also increased from $3,500 in 2004 to $4,895 this year since UT’s tuition was deregulated in 2003, according to the University Budget Office.
“Professors are uncertain about their futures, students don’t know if they’re going to have sufficient financial aid, the cost of attending UT has skyrocketed in the last decade,” Ko said. “Part of my job as a legislator is going to be to fight for UT, to make sure we have the resources we need to remain a top institution.”
Ko criticized what he called the absolutist mentality of some lawmakers. He said the state’s current relationship with UT is preventing it from producing a workforce able to work in cutting-edge fields and benefit the state’s economy.
“If we politicize the running of our universities, it produces bad scholarship and administrative problems – it’s a not a good path to go down,” Ko said. “To me, there’s an obvious connection between investing in education and building a strong economy. Texas was an oil and gas state for a long time, but it can’t stay that way forever.”
Gary Susswein, spokesman for the University, said Ko would not be able to teach during legislative sessions if elected.
However, Ko said he hopes to make arrangements to stay involved with the University, citing his love of teaching and students.
“[Teaching] keeps me in touch with the pulse of the University,” Ko said. “And as a legislator who represents Travis County, that’s going to be part of my job.”
Ko said student voters could realize their political potential in the coming years, saying young people were often unaware of the tremendous political influence they can have by devoting their energy to elections.
“The media often says that young people don’t vote, that we don’t pay attention,” Ko said. “And while that may be true sometimes, students have had huge impacts in the past."
Correction on June 21: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Ramey Ko was running in the Nov. 5 special election to fulfill the remainder of Strama's term. He is actually running in the 2014 March primary.
Follow Alberto Long on Twitter @albertolong.