Ramey Ko

Journalism and and philosophy senior Allison Heinrich catches up on homework with her fellow University Democrats at the West Mall on Monday evening. The University Democrates rallied at West Mall until poles opened at 7 a.m. this morning to increase awareness of the oppurtunity to vote early. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats rallied at the West Mall beginning at 9 p.m. Monday to encourage students to vote early for the Travis County elections on March 4. Early voting opens Tuesday at 7 a.m.

The organization has been holding the event, which is called Voterama, for several years to increase student awareness of the opportunity to vote early, according to Michelle Willoughby, government junior and communications director for University Democrats.

“We are very lucky to have a polling place on campus, and we want to make sure students take advantage of it,” Willoughby said. “We also work very hard to increase young people’s voting in general.”

Willoughby also said the organization holds other events throughout the year to encourage students to vote.

“Another thing we do is Democracy Dogs, where we bring dogs to campus on Election Day,” Willoughby said. “People stop to pet the dogs, and that gives a chance to talk to them about voting.”

Candidates running in the Travis County elections that are endorsed by University Democrats also spoke at Voterama, both to defend their platforms and to offer additional promotion of early voting. Endorsed candidates included Richard Jung, who is running for Travis County commissioner for Precinct 2, Andy Brown, who is running for county judge, and Ramey Ko, who is running for county treasurer.

Ko, who is a UT law lecturer and a member of University Democrats, said he comes to the Voterama event for every election cycle and has probably attended a dozen by now.

“I have a feeling that, if it wasn’t for [University Democrats] doing this event, students would not have as much a sense of what’s happening on a county, city and state level,” Ko said. “It can be difficult, particularly as a college student, to pay attention to what’s happening at city hall … even though our lives are affected much more directly by [those elections].”

David Feigen, government and communications studies senior and president of University Democrats, said the organization took care when deciding which candidates to endorse for the March primaries.

“From our standpoint, it is important not just to elect the Democrats on the ballot but elect the best Democrats who we think are the most progressive and the most qualified for leadership,” Feigen said. “It’s [also] important that people know that the March primaries mean just as much as any other election.”

UT lecturer Ramey Ko has announced he is running in the March election for the Texas House of Representatives.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

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.