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Keeping a Long-Distance Eye on the Legislature

Lawmakers can raise money for their campaigns until 30 days before the Legislature convenes.
KUT News
Lawmakers can raise money for their campaigns until 30 days before the Legislature convenes.

With the Texas Legislature in session, thousands of people will visit the capitol to talk with lawmakers and their staffs about bills being debated. But Texas is a giant state, and many Texans can’t make the trip to Austin.

Francis Curry is a member of the United Methodist Women. It’s a group that advocates for several legislative topics, including issues of faith and caring for low-income Texans.

She’s been actively involved in the legislature for several years from her home in Monahans, Texas. That's about 400 miles from the capitol dome. It's a distance she says doesn’t keep her from knowing what’s going on.

“Through technology and news stations and things, you can find out things in a second," Curry says.

The Methodist women are also connected to an advocacy group in Austin. So the local group helps send out updates across the state.

“E-mails come anytime there’s a bill that’s being presented that has to do with issues of faith that we’d be concerned about we’re given information about," Curry says. "So extremely helpful."

Darlene Alfred lives just up I-35 in Salado. If a really big bill or committee hearing is coming up, she can hop in a car and get to Austin.

But without her own regimen of surfing the net, reading newspapers and watching TV news she wouldn’t know when to hop in the car. As a leader in her activist community, Alfred has set up a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to share articles she thinks are important for her friends to read.

“And this is a way for them to be involved without looking for it. And as I continued to do that," Alfred says, "...I saw that after a couple of weeks went by they’d send me a text and say ‘hey I haven’t seen anything lately. What happened to, do you know what the result was from the information you sent me two days, two weeks, two months ago?’ So that tells me that they’re not only listening, but they’re following."

Ilka Vega also uses social media to follow legislative action. She’s a U.S. citizen living in Juarez, Mexico and attending a private high school in El Paso. But she and her classmates don’t use social media just for sharing articles.

“I think we get to see it from a different perspective. Because rather than just reading an article in the newspapers, you get to see how it really affects people. It’s not only facts but it is how people are feeling, how people are being affected," Vega says.

She says those discussions about how legislation is affecting people locally often turn into brainstorming sessions looking for solutions.

“They are doing this wrong or maybe we could do this better and maybe I have an idea and if I share with my friends over there – maybe they will share with someone else and we can create a change," Vega says. "Because if we actually come together and we have more voices – that’s how our own voice has more power. If we come together to speak up."

All of them say there’s nothing quite like a trip to Austin. Having the time to attend and even testify before a committee on legislation is a dream for all of them. But in the meantime, modern technology does provide a path to follow their passions under the dome.

Interested in voicing your concerns? Join Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Larry Gonzales, Texas Impact’s Bee Moorhead and community advocates for a talk on how citizens can hold leaders accountable once they're elected.

Why Bother? Your State Legislature, Your Voice” is the third event in a  public dialogue series in collaboration with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and KLRU-TV, Austin PBS. This free event is from 7:30-8:30 p.m. tonight at KLRU studios and will be hosted by KUT’s Nathan Bernier. Plan on attending? Please RSVP online.

Ben Philpott is the Managing Editor for KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @BenPhilpottKUT.
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