Keep Austin Wonky interviews Texas House candidate Huey Rey Fischer.
1. Some folks want to grow up and be doctors, or athletes, or financiers. How did you come to realize you wanted to be a part of the politics and policy world?
Politics shouldn’t be institutional. There are too many politicians and political consultants who occupy these spaces of power that would better serve the public if filled by others.
I’m in politics because there is a lot of cleanup to do. I want to live in a community where I as a young, queer Latino son of a once-undocumented immigrant mom and a Jewish dad from Brooklyn can be myself. As somebody with over $40,000 in student loan debt who worked all through college and who lives in this city as a renter, there are a lot of problems that I see our Legislature has dropped the ball on.
I am running for office because I see a job that needs to get done and I know how to do it. If you are in politics without agenda that you believe betters our society, then you are unproductively occupying political space.
2. You are likely be a member of the minority party in the Texas Legislature. What are some important – but not polarizing – state policy priorities where you think you can make progress by putting in the time and making allies across the aisle?
I think food policy is a huge opportunity for compromise. It isn’t the sexiest issue, but it is very personal for me. I will pursue policies that incentivize grocery stores to open up in underserved neighborhoods, increase the produce purchasing power of working families, and encourage healthy eating in our schools. With roughly 1.8 million children going to bed hungry at night, food hunger is very real in Texas and it is something that Republicans and Democrats can come together on.
There are a lot of other issues where we can find bipartisan ground from reforming our property tax system to ending the reliance on high-stakes testing in schools.
3. You spent some time in Chile. Any interesting insights on politics or social movements from your time there?
Students and young people have completely shaken up the politics of the country. Starting in 2006 with high schoolers and again in 2011 with university students, young people have used their collective strength to push a reform agenda that is meaningful. They are challenging the nation’s politicians with a simple message: education should be free for everybody, of good quality, and without the corrupt influence of private money.
I worked on campaigns while I was there in 2013, a year in which 5 leftist student leaders were elected to Congress. I went back this past October to work on a campaign of progressive students to take over the student federation of the most conservative university in the nation, and we won.
Here in Texas, students are dealing with crushing student debt, a rise of sexual assaults on campuses, the permission to carry weapons into classrooms, and so many other problems that our Legislature is either not addressing or even making worse. This race is an opportunity to stand up and push back.
4. There are many municipal and county policy areas where the state sets constraints on our local officials (e.g. Capitol View Corridors, homestead exemption design, uses of Hotel Occupancy taxes, appointments to regional transportation bodies, inclusionary zoning, rent control, and so on). Which “local choice” options will you initially prioritize in your work?
We can gain some big wins when it comes to property tax relief. I will be the champion of circuit breakers for both homeowners and renters, sales price disclosure, and a flat-dollar homestead exemption for local governments.
Fischer worked in the legislature as an aide to Eddie Rodriguez, as well as stints with Trey Martinez Fischer (no relation) and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.
5. What efforts will you undertake in the legislature and outside of it to reduce sexual assault at UT and beyond?
We need to require both our public and private universities to establish clear and comprehensive sexual assault prevention and response guidelines. Clear definitions of affirmative consent must be included in the package, as well as provisions that give students certain immunities for reporting sexual violence from crimes like alcohol, drug and noise violations. There should also be a funding component from the state for training of administrators, faculty, law enforcement and other stakeholders. Victims should be able to reserve the right to notify law enforcement or keep them out.
6. Many of the Democrats in your district will be looking to support the candidate most likely to improves the party’s statewide electoral outcomes. One strategy Democratic Texas legislators have taken is to “park the blue bus”. They undertake highly-visible resistance to GOP policy changes in an effort to broaden/energize Democratic supporters. Others take a “deep blue” approach. They focus on shaping state agency spending decisions and passing local option legislation that enables the “blue” metros to advance more progressive policy. What will be your approach?
I don’t think the two approaches are mutually exclusive. In fact, to be an effective legislator for the most liberal district in Texas (HD49), we need somebody who can walk the line between the two approaches.
I bring the legislative policy experience to be an effective voice who can negotiate bills out of committee and through the process to the Governor’s desk. I was mentored by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (no relation) of the rules to defeat bad Republican bills on points of order, or technicalities.
At the same time, I will draw a very hard line to the left. There is a distinction between compromising values and negotiating on legislation, and I will make sure I never commit the former.
7. I’ve noticed different constituent engagement styles from legislators. Some act as a trustee of sorts, waiting for groups and citizens to come and make broad policy requests and then decide which to spend time on. Others follow a community organizer model; they pro-actively try and strengthen citizen organizations, convene potential allies, and mediate community disputes in their district. And others focus on highly-personalized constituent service, such as getting deeply involved with constituent frustration with citizen-facing operations at state agencies. What will be your constituent engagement style?
I read Congressman Jake Pickle’s book when I was a college freshman, and one thing that stuck with me was that he always listed his home number in the phone book. That’s incredible. It’s why I am campaigning with my cell phone number in all of my campaign literature.
Our elected officials need to be first and foremost accessible to the public. They can’t hide behind closed doors or make themselves too busy to chat with their constituents.
I don’t think community organizing and constituent services are mutually exclusive, and I would be a combination of both. I believe in horizontal leadership, so I will be relying on my constituents heavily to participate in policy decision-making that works best for our families.
I will also make sure my staff provides the best customer service when it comes to constituent casework. When somebody is calling their state representative or senator for help, it is because they have already exhausted the normal routes in dealing with a certain state agency or program and they are not sure of what to do next. It is our role as legislators to help connect the dots.
8. Last question. What’s the chart that stood out the most from your time in the Texas legislature?
Here is a chart that I saw a lot last session that really stuck with me. It was distributed by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, but it comes from Feeding Texas. It is unacceptable that we have hunger in this country, especially because it is a problem we can fix.
Find out more about Huey by visiting his campaign website.