State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, held a town hall on campus Wednesday night where she answered student questions on voter participation and the state of U.S. politics.
University Democrats hosts a new speaker weekly, and the town hall featuring Hinojosa was also streamed on Facebook Live. Students both in the audience and at home had the chance to ask questions on Facebook and Twitter using #AskGina.
“Rep. Hinojosa has — to commend her — definitely taken the initiative in paying attention to what students are concerned about,” University Democrats President Douglas Snyder said. “She doesn’t just represent us according to the district lines. She literally does represent us (as students).”
To start out, Hinojosa commented on the current state of U.S. politics.
“I want to convey to you that the … unhinged politics we are experiencing right now is not normal,” UT alumna Hinojosa said. “We are in a crisis period in this country, in this state.”
Snyder moderated the town hall and asked Hinojosa questions students submitted on social media.
One attendee asked if student advocacy is valued or matters to representatives. Hinojosa responded by saying it is one of the most important things students can do.
“Student advocacy really matters and we don’t see enough of it,” Hinojosa said. “I know when the house gallery is full of people like it was on the last day of the regular session, it matters. It changes behaviors on the house floor.”
In regard to the 2018 election cycle, Hinojosa emphasized the need to get voters to the polls in order to close the seat gap in the Texas House. She said it’s crucial to close this gap by 2020 to ensure Democrats have a stronger voice when the legislature draws new district lines after the 2020 census.
“With all the craziness that’s happening, we have a chance,” Hinojosa said. “We need to do everything we can to turn this around.”
Mechanical engineering freshman Shelby Hobohm asked Hinojosa what it is like to be a woman in the Texas House, where there are less than three dozen female representatives out of 150. In response, Hinojosa recalled a day where she was looking down from a balcony in the Capitol onto the House floor.
“It was just a sea of men,” Hinojosa said. “It’s very strange … We need more women in the Texas house. There’s just no question about it.”
Hobohm said she often attempts to engage with her representatives through letters and other forms of communication. But, she said, getting to ask Hinojosa questions in person was exciting.
“It was nice to get a response face-to-face in real time,” Hobohm said. “Normally, you get a postcard from one of their interns with their views written down, and you’re like ‘that’s not what I asked.’”
Snyder said he felt like the town hall was a success and hoped attendees and viewers realized anyone can participate and make a difference in politics.
“I hope that (this town hall) proves that our elected officials are listening,” Snyder said. “It’s important to show people that yeah, your Congressman may be a gerrymandered ultra-right conservative, but you can still make a difference through your advocacy.”