Wimberley Indivisible Candidate Questionnaire

Please answer the following questions. Your answers will help Wimberley Indivisible determine primary endorsements.

1.  What qualities or experience do you possess that qualify you to hold this office?

I have a range of experience in non-profits, education, activism, and self-employment. One of my first jobs out of high school was canvassing for Texas Campaign for the Environment on their computer recycling campaign. I studied natural resource conservation and then worked for a couple of different conservation groups. For the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I administered three separate granting programs and coordinated partnerships with state and local government to improve elk habitat. With the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, we were experimenting with a new form of contracting where a project combined timber harvesting and habitat enhancement work. This was a great opportunity to learn about creative ways to structure and fund projects in ways that meet the needs of multiple interest groups. I also assisted with monitoring conservation easements and writing promotional material for our accomplishments.

 

Then I worked for a small watershed nonprofit, the Blackfoot Challenge, as their forestry coordinator. We were a “collaborative

conservation” organization. This means that it was my job to sit down with people from various walks of life (loggers, environmentalists, ranchers, hunters, fisherman, homeowners, wildlife managers), put aside my own position, and find common ground between them. Our model was that 80% of the people can come to agreement on 80% of the issues. To do this, we put aside hot-button issues, ignored extremists, and focused on the people we could work with. We negotiated values first. Participants were expected to show up talking about what they valued, not what they wanted. Then once trust and rapport was established, we would move on to addressing specific issues in way that aligned with everyone’s values. I believe this model will be useful in the Texas Legislature. My specific work focused on wildfire management and preparation, community outreach about best forestry practices, strategizing for future biomass energy generation, and linking private property owners to federal and state funding for forest management.

 

I left conservation to pursue a career in writing and attended graduate school at the University of Arizona. There I had the opportunity to teach undergraduate writing classes and community writing workshops. I also was a graduate student worker for the Poetry Center’s education program. I administered writing contests, developed pedagogical tools for local high school teachers, and assisted with community outreach for our education programs. I also enrolled in a program at the Poetry Center to train undergraduate and graduate students in teaching creative writing to K-8 students. This training included teaching a 6 week writing residency to a class of fourth graders. After completing the program, they hired me to work as a mentor teacher for other students going through the program, and I guided undergraduate students through several more residencies in other elementary and middle school classrooms. This work taught me about the limitations and barriers classoom teachers face with bringing arts education and other outside programs into the classroom. Testing in particular was a constant stressor to educators we worked with.

 

After returning to Texas, I was part of a team of activists who organized the December 19th Electoral College Demonstraion at the Texas Capitol, and I was the spokesperson for the event. Over 1,000 people attended, and I was our voice on most local news outlets. I was the lead organizer for the Dripping Springs Indivisible Town Hall for Roger Williams that over 250 constituents attended. Planning these events was an exercise in juggling multiple interests, hammering out details, and making judgment calls for the good  the whole.

 

In terms of personality qualities, I am compassionate and honest, two traits I believe are non-negotiable in any legislator. I am investigative and an informational magpie. I like to know all the information before making a decision and will go out and pursue that information. I'm direct about my goals but also strategic. Now is a time to pick our battles carefully and win the ones we pick. I'm a team player. It doesn't matter at the end of the day who gets the credit for a piece of legislation as long as it gets done. I don't hold grudges; I will work jointly with anyone if it's consistent with my values. I'm a persuasive communicator and can share a strong message briefly.

2.  How will you motivate new voters (i.e. people who rarely or never vote)?

There only two real ways of motivating new voters. One is to convince them that their vote actually matters. The second is to demonstrate that you as a candidate are standing up for issues that directly impact them. My campaign and I are committed to doing both of these things. The groups we need to reach are young people (particularly Texas State University students and recent graduates), Latinx people (particularly east of I-35), and young families new to the area who haven’t been involved in local politics (primarily in Kyle and Buda).

 

To engage college students, we are doing regular campus outreach events and addressing the issues that matter to students, such as social inclusivity, health care, rising tuition costs, and work opportunities after graduation. Social media is also a key tool to reach this demographic. Regarding Latinx outreach, my campaign has been visible in opposing the racist law, Senate Bill 4, and supporting DACA recipients. I and my campaign coordinator have participated in deportation defense actions, carried a pro-immigrant banner in the San Marcos Mermaid Parade, participated in a pro-DACA silent protest at Texas State, and traveled to New Orleans to demonstrate during the 5th Circuit Hearing on Senate Bill 4. To engage young families in Kyle and Buda, we will knock on their doors and talk about pocketbook issues such as education, health care, and transportation.

Blockwalking will be a key part of our strategy to reach all of these demographics, and my campaign has already been blockwalking for months. There is nothing as motivating as being directly asked by a candidate for their support. We will also strategically coordinate with other campaigns in our district, and we have a good relationship with all of the Democratic candidates who are likely to win their primaries and have already have planned shared events with some of them.

3.  How will you capitalize on the “blue wave” of fired-up progressives?

To ride the “blue wave” (or hopefully blue tsunami!), one has to be a candidate who openly and proudly stands with activists. I came to politics through activism, and I’ve earned the trust of activists throughout my district and also in other parts of the state. I don’t see activists and politicians as adversaries. I see activists as essential political allies who give elected officials the political capital we need to accomplish good policy. I’ve received endorsements from Run For Something, Left Up to Us, and Our Revolution Texas, progressive groups who are all part of building that blue wave. Run For Something backed many of the Virginia Assembly candidates who won in November, and they’ve been a consistent training resource I’ve used during my campaign. Left Up to Us is a central Texas grassroots organization that will be committing blockwalking and phonebanking resources to my campaign. Our Revolution Texas spun out of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and they will use their extensive data and volunteer network to do outreach and get out the vote efforts for our campaign. We’ll also coordinate closely with other campaigns in our area. A united front of Democrats who get along and coordinate their ground game will be more effective than us all working alone.

One aspect I don’t hear much about is positivity. To make the most of the blue wave, we need to give voters (particularly young voters) something to vote for. We can’t fall into the trap of running as “better than the other guy”. While I am happy to point at specific policies that have hurt Texans and use them as a way to illustrate what I would do better, I think attacking opponents personally (either in the primary or the general election) is a strategic mistake. Voters are exhausted by negative politics. Young people in particular tune out negative campaigning and are less likely to vote when they’re exposed to it. My campaign will focus on the positive and use that as a tool to keep energy and excitement up among Democrats and progressives.

 

3.  How will you bridge the financial gap between you and your opponent?

Grassroots fundraising will be essential to building a campaign war chest. We are already asking our donors to sign up for recurring donations that will sustain us with regular influxes of funding throughout the campaign. I am also calling people all around Texas who have a history of giving to Democratic campaigns and asking them to support this race. The key is getting donors to believe that this particular race is winnable. Isaac choosing not to run for reelection is key to major donors and major Democratic groups investing in this race after the primary. We are also expecting national press coverage (Time Magazine, the article is supposed to come out in early January), and we will leverage that to attract donors around the country. As a bit of a rarity (a pregnant candidate), we will use the free media that provides as another opportunity to generate mainstream interest and attract donors.

 

All that said, we will probably still have less funding than our Republican opponent. One of the primary candidates has already contributed a $150,000 of her own money to her campaign, and this will be a high priority district for Republicans to protect. The Democrats will be focused on protecting districts they picked up in 2016 and winning urban districts in the DFW and Houston areas. Any Democratic candidate in HD45 will be outspent. So how do we close that gap? Grassroots organizing and volunteers. More money doesn’t win elections; it’s just a tool. Volunteer labor is another tool. I’ve been endorsed by Left Up To Us and Our Revolution Texas, both of whom will direct their volunteers to blockwalk and phonebank for our campaign. We also have strong relationships with local get out the vote volunteers such as Democratic Party precinct chairs and will coordinate with them to knock on every single door. I have a great relationship with the College Democrats at Texas State University and have four student interns donating their work to my campaign right now. That number will only increase for the general election, and we will be able to coordinate teams of students to blockwalk and phonebank in their area and to do campus get out the vote work.

4.  What is one political issue you are conflicted about and why? If it comes up in session, how will you resolve the conflict?

I’m conflicted about the Texas revenue sources. Texas’s revenue system needs updating. Our taxes our regressive (the poorest 20% of Texans pay and average of over 12% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 5% pay an average of under 3%), and our revenue is too dependent on bust and boom sources like natural gas and oil production taxes. We struggle to properly fund many core programs and are redirecting federal funding for social services to fund core programs. The main source of this struggle is that Texas has chosen multiple times in our history to not implement an individual income tax. Instead the bulk of our non-federal revenue comes from sales tax, and then is supplemented by a hodgepodge of specific taxes and other sources. I am committed to making Texas’s tax structure more progressive, but that will be logistically challenging and I am unsure what the most strategic way to do that will be. Implementing an income tax would require an amendment to the Texas constitution, which requires Texas voters to approve it. We are at least a decade of work away from implementing that level of change. The other option is to try and shore up existing taxes, such as the franchise tax, and to add new taxes such as a targeted excise tax on specific luxury items or a capital gains tax. Texas businesses pay franchise tax based on their margin, and there are four different ways for them to calculate their margin. It’s a poorly designed tax that some businesses have to pay even when they lose money, and it’s expensive and time-consuming for businesses to calculate their tax liability. But it’s also one of the only taxes that Texas could adjust to make our tax structure more progressive.

I expect to resolve this conflict by working with other Democrats in the Texas Legislature who are more experienced in navigating the complications of the Texas revenue system. Individuals who have a good history of working on these issues include Representative Donna Howard, Representative Eric Johnson, and Representative Eddie Rodriguez. I would work with them to determine both what is feasible immediately and to strategize long-term about making the state’s tax code more progressive.

5. What will you do if your constituents’ views/wishes conflict with your personal beliefs?

This depends on the issue. I will never act against my core values. If my constituents’ suddenly had a change of heart and 90% of them wanted me to support a bathroom bill, I still would never support a bathroom bill. If that’s a dealbreaker for my constituents, they can replace me in the next election. When it comes to more local issues, I will rely on my constituents for their expertise and experience. I anticipate that I will have individual disagreements with many well-meaning constituents, and I will weigh my reasons with their reasons and see who wins out. With hyperlocal issues, I will likely choose to support my constituents’ position. With statewide issues, I am more likely to stick closely to my core values and what I believe is best for Texas. But I will always be ready to hear my constituents’ views and to give them an opportunity to teach me something and perhaps change my mind.

 

6. What are your top three legislative priorities? What steps will you take to make those priorities happen?

I need four.

Public school funding: I will support the ongoing efforts of Democratic legislators to rework the school funding formula and to pass a constitutional amendment to require the state to pay at least 50% of public school education costs. I will also work with education activists to get the word out across Texas about how underfunded our schools are and build support for reforming school funding.

Repealing Senate Bill 4: I will fight alongside other Texas Democrats to force a repeal. If we don’t have the numbers to get it done cleanly, I will participate in actions with other legislators and activists to continue to get press coverage for the injustice perpetuated by this law. Whenever a related bill comes to the floor, I will strategize with other Democratic legislators to amend the bill to include SB4 repeal provisions.

 

Fair Redistricting: I will work with fair redistricting advocates such as Representative Eric Johnson and Representative Donna Howard to push for a constitutional amendment to create an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw our legislative districts. I will also coordinate with activist groups such as Degerrymander Texas and Independent Texas Redistricting to draw attention to the fundamental unfairness of our current system. (Note: I do not expect this to be successful in one session, but I will continue to fight for it my entire time in the legislature.)

 

Full Chapter 36 Authority for the Hays Trinity Water Conservation District: I will introduce a bill my first session to give the Hays Trinity Water Conservation District its full authority under Chapter 36 of Texas Water Code. I will also work to find a sponsor for a companion piece of legislation in the Texas Senate and help shepherd it through committee and to the governor’s desk. Because this is a local issue, it will be very difficult to accomplish without both a State Representative and a State Senator who will support it.

7.  What new ideas, agendas or programs do you plan to implement or support to help the people you represent?

I will support a reversal of Texas's policy disallowing local governments from providing telecommunication services. This will provide an opportunity for municipalities to invest in better local internet service.

 

I will push for an update to the state renewable energy portfolio standards to encourage more investment in solar and wind power.

 

I will support a program to raise funding for acquiring additional public parklands in the central Texas area.

I will push conversations about giving counties more power to plan for growth and guide development in their unincorporated territory, particularly in regards to water conservation.  

Wherever possible, your answers to the following questions should have two components:  your past experience with the issues, and concrete examples of how you plan to address the issues if you are elected.

8. Describe your vision and goals for public education.

I envision a robust and dynamic public education system. My own K-12 education was a mix of public and private schools. I want a future where public schools have the funding and flexibility to be every bit as excellent, dynamic, and responsive to individual student needs as the private schools I attended. The first step is the state of Texas keeping its promise to Texas schools and providing at least 50% of the public education funding instead of increasingly relying on local property taxes. This will help local schools reduce class size (many elementary schools in House District 45 have had to apply for class size waivers), offer more services, recruit better teachers, and offer a wider range of classes and educational opportunities.

 

We also must give educators and students more flexibility in the classroom. One way to do this is to end shame and blame testing. Texas standardized testing is above the federal minimum, and this exacerbates our “teaching to the test” problem. I have been a visiting arts teacher in many elementary and middle schools, and teachers struggle to find time for our programs, largely because of the burden of testing time and preparation. Testing should be for evaluating students to improve their learning, not for shaming schools and blaming teachers. Teachers are trained professionals, and we need to treat them as such and give them the space to adapt to each individual classroom.

 

And as professionals, we must compensate teachers as such and keep our retirement promises to them. Retired teachers are not eligible for social security, and the Teacher Retirement Service pension hasn’t given a cost of living increase since 1999. Many retired teachers live in poverty. In addition, the Teacher Retirement Service healthcare plan is dramatically underfunded. 2018 costs have increased 50% or more, and many retired teachers are opting to go without health coverage. In addition to being unconscionable, this is hurting our ability to recruit good teachers for Texas public schools. I will work to shore up these funds, so that Texas keeps its promises to our teachers.

 

I also will oppose any effort to take public funding and use it for private schools.
 

9.  How will you take action on improving women’s access to reproductive health care?

 

We are going to have to fight a new round of ridiculous anti-abortion bills next legislative session, so defense will be a big part of my actions. I also hope we can work to roll back previously passed bills such as the fetal burial bill, the private insurance abortion coverage ban, and the overly burdensome abortion complication reporting requirement.

 

Texas rates 5th in the nation for teen births, and almost 60% of Texas school districts only offer abstinence-only education while 25% offer no reproductive education at all. I will work with other legislators to require all public schools to have age-appropriate reproductive education classes. Young people cannot make good choices for themselves without adequate information, and every study shows that comprehensive reproductive education programs work to reduce rates of STDs and teen pregnancy and often delay the onset of sexual activity for teens.

 

We also must expand women’s access to family planning services. Expanding Medicaid coverage is on factor in this, but we can also restore Planned Parenthood’s role in the state women’s health program and allow minors to receive birth control anonymously from any healthcare provider. I will also work to defund “crisis pregnancy centers”, faux health services that mislead women about their healthcare options. We should not be wasting our valuable healthcare dollars on manipulative pseudoscience.

10.  What legislative actions will you propose or support related to immigration?

The first priority of every ethical Texas legislator in 2019 should be to repeal Senate Bill 4, the “show me your papers” law. This racist law is a stain on our state. It divides families, encourages federal overreach, and enables racial profiling by law enforcement officers. I have been involved in anti-SB4 activism throughout 2017 and will continue to be outspoken about it until it’s gone. We have a broken federal immigration system that has needed fixing for 30 years. Texas should not be propping up a broken system that the federal government is refusing to fix. Many undocumented immigrants end up in jail and at risk for deportation because of driving without a license. The federal Real ID act makes granting licenses to undocumented a legal maze, but California has found a way. I will fight for Texas to follow their model and issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, so that they can safely take their children to school and attend work without fear of being pulled over for a minor infraction and put at risk of deportation.

11.  What steps will you take to support equal rights for women, people of color, LGBTQ, etc.?

I will fight any recurrence of the bathroom bill tooth and nail as well as any other blatantly hateful bill that surfaces next session. There are times to work across the aisle and times to stand and fight; hate legislation fall under the latter. In Texas it is still legal to fire someone or deny them housing on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I will work to close that gap in our civil rights laws and provide comprehensive anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQIA Texans. This anti-discrimination protection would also cover discrimination from government agencies, counties, and municipalities, especially important now because of the Texas Supreme Court ruling that municipalities aren’t required to provide the same benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees that they provide to opposite-sex spouses.

 

Texas has gaps in our sexual harassment protections: rules only apply to employers that have more that 14 employees, contractors have no protections, and the sexual harassment reporting window is only 180 days. I will work to apply the same rules to all employers regardless of size, offer contractors the same protections as other employees, and expand sexual harassment reporting window to two years. I will also work with other legislators to update our sexual assault laws including: passing an affirmative consent law (I testified for this during the Special Session) and creating a strict timeline for law enforcement testing rape kits. I will also work to create a commission to study why so many sexual assault cases don’t result in prosecution. We know that cases fall through the cracks, but we don’t where those cracks are. I want to find them, so we can fix them and enforce our existing sexual assault laws.

We must repeal Senate Bill 4 so that Texans of color won’t be racially profiled by law enforcement, and I will support passing the original version of the Sandra Bland Act, which would create unconscious bias training for law enforcement.

12. What specific measures or legislative actions will you take to ensure healthcare is available and affordable to all?

The most important thing we can to make healthcare more available and affordable is for Texas to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Right now Medicaid in Texas only covers severely disabled people, very poor children, and very poor pregnant women. Expanding Medicaid would bring $6 billion of federal healthcare funding into Texas and would make coverage available to another 1.5 million Texans and over 10,000 people who live in House District 45. In addition to providing healthcare for these people, expanding Medicaid would also make our health system more robust and affordable for everyone. House District 45 spends over $14 million each year on local taxpayer funded healthcare for the uninsured; this number would shrink dramatically. House District 45 would receive at least $20 million each year in federal healthcare funding, which could create 1,000 jobs in the healthcare industry. Right now many physicians write off unreimbursed care to the uninsured and to the underinsured. Those costs are passed on to patients who can pay and drive up everyone’s healthcare costs. Accepting the Medicaid expansion is the single most impactful action we can take to make healthcare more accessible and affordable to everyone. And if Arizona and Arkansas can expand Medicaid, so can Texas.

 

I will also work to improve the state Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates and work to cover pregnant women for longer. Texas has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and I will work to create a process to review each maternal death and standardize better medical practices for all Texas women.

13.  What actions will you take to improve the fairness of the criminal justice system?

 

I will fight to phase out Texas’s use of private prisons. This will be a long fight, but there should be no profit motive in our criminal justice system. I will also work toward legalizing marijuana and deemphasizing enforcement of drug possession crimes. There is no public safety or medical benefit to keeping marijuana possession and use criminalized. Arrests and prosecutions for marijuana related crimes disproportionately impact people of color and lower class people. In addition, enforcing marijuana criminalization wastes valuable local and state law enforcement resources. Legalizing marijuana could bring as much as $500 million a year in tax revenue, would provide relief to people who suffer from many medical ailments, and would help mitigate the opioid crisis.

 

The Texas Legislature passed enabling legislation for a Veteran’s Court system, and the system has been a tremendous success in providing substance abuse treatment to veterans, helping them better reintegrate into civilian life, and reducing the recidivism race.  We need to provide more funding, so this system can continue to expand especially into more rural counties such as Blanco. Following this success, I’d also like Texas to explore creating a drug court system.

14.  What steps will you take to increase the use of clean energy? How will you build a bipartisan coalition to support this?

Texas adopted renewable energy portfolio standards in 1999, but we met our goal of 5,000 Megawatts in 2005. It’s time to update our renewable energy portfolio standards to a percentage instead of flat amount. I will work with other legislators to introduce and advocate for legislation that phases in an increasingly higher percentage of renewable energy with the end goal of 100% renewables. This is the main tool we need to encourage renewable growth at the state-level.

 

There are also several smaller technical tools that will help renewables continue to grow. I will also work to give counties more tools to encourage renewable energy use and energy efficiency in new and existing construction, and I will work to create guidelines for electrical utilities’ regarding net metering for home and business solar installations so that owners can accurately predict the rate of return on their investment. Community solar installations are a recent innovation in Texas that allow people who can’t install solar where they live to buy or rent panels in a separate array; the Texas Legislature could do more to encourage utilities to participate in this practice. Texas should also allow renewable energy projects to be funded through Public Improvement Districts. I will also protect the ad valorem tax exemption for solar installations; it’s been an essential tool in encouraging landowners to invest in solar.

 

Renewable energy is prime for bipartisan work. Many Texas Republicans already recognize that renewable energy offers tremendous economic opportunities. Jobs in solar increased 34% from 2015 to 2016, and many renewable energy jobs are in the reddest parts of the state. My own brother dropped out of a petroleum engineering program to go work in solar. This is how we build a partnership with Republicans: emphasize jobs and emphasize the shifting economy.

 

15.  Public lands seem to be under attack and underfunded. What steps will you take to keep public lands public?

In the early 2000s, our state parks, natural areas, wildlife management areas were severely underfunded, and some parks were at risk of being sold off. The legislature lifted the funding cap for Texas Parks in 2007, and since then we have not been at risk for losing our state parklands. I will be vigilant to make sure this situation doesn’t change, and I will work with our Congressional representatives to secure Land and Water Conservation Fund and Pittman-Robertson dollars to expand our state and local park systems to better serve our growing population and prevent the loss of open space. I will also be part of a local Texas delegation encouraging our Congressional representatives to protect Texas’s federal lands as well.

16.  (NATIONAL) What steps will you take to protect our land, air and water, and address climate change issues?


 

17.  (STATE) What are your ideas for addressing the looming water crisis in Texas?

 

My highest priority will be to give the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District (HTGCD) full authority under Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code. Right now, they are hamstrung by an inability to raise funds and therefore defend themselves if faced with a legal challenge. They are effectively toothless, and this is unacceptable for water district that is responsible for our protecting and maintaining our local aquifer. I will introduce a bill to give the HTGCD that authority my first session in the legislature.

Other water conservation initiatives that I’ll pursue include: phasing in heightened standards for gray water reclamation and rainwater collection in new construction, incentivizing the retrofitting of existing homes for gray water use and rainwater collection, removing barriers to purple pipe use for municipal wastewater treatment plants (which would also encourage municipalities to not seek a discharge permit), giving counties more tools to direct development in relation to water use planning and water conservation standards. Long-term, I want to encourage statewide scientific planning of water resources and work to replace the Rule of Capture with another model, such as the Rule of Reasonable Use or state-owned groundwater. This will be a long process, but it’s one we need to undertake to conserve our water resources long-term.

18.  (STATE) Describe your vision for the Hill Country, with attention to protection of natural resources, flood control, and managing development.

I envision a Hill Country where each community maintains its own unique character (instead of being swallowed by growing metropolitan areas) and has the tools it needs to plan wisely for the future. I envision a Hill Country that preserves open space, protects our streams and groundwater, and develops in a way that is locally directed and doesn’t exacerbate flooding issues. We should not be for sale to the highest bidder. Local development decisions should not be made through the state legislature. The state legislature only meets every two years and cannot be adequately responsive to all concerns that come up. Also, the state legislature is made up of 181 individuals, only two of whom are elected to represent any one particular area. These decisions should be made at the city or county level where only local officials who voters can hold directly accountable have the final say. I will fight against state attacks on local control (such as the tree bill), and I will work to give counties more authority to plan for growth, regulate development, and engage in flood planning. Instead of legislators personally shepherding new municipal utility districts through the committees, counties should engage in a local and public process to approve them. I’m confident that this model will result in better outcomes for the Hill Country, especially in a county like Hays where most new development is occurring outside of city limits. I will also work with organizations working to protect the Hill Country (such as Greenbelt Alliance, Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Hill Country Alliance, and Save Our Springs Alliance) to make sure they have the tools and access to funding to protect open space and a clean and healthy environment.

ERIN ZWIENER

FOR TEXAS HOUSE 45

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POL. ADV. PAID FOR BY ERIN ZWIENER FOR TEXAS HOUSE