BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Rio Grande Valley lawmakers do not hear enough from their constituents during the legislative session and as a result the region’s influence on public policy is diminished, says state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III.
The Harlingen Democrat made this point at recent RGV Leadership class event in Brownsville. He spoke in depth about the upcoming legislative session, which starts on January 13. Lucio urged Valley residents to not only make contact with their local legislators but also those from other parts of the state.
“I think there are some great examples of grassroots efforts that have largely been led by communities outside of South Texas. They not only interact with their local officials but all the legislative offices around the state and they have become very organized and very successful,” Lucio told the Guardian.
Lucio said that while he wants to hear more from South Texas residents, he is not being critical.
“I know there is a little bit of an access issue. It is hard to get to and from the Valley, trust me, I know, especially with flights and different things. It is just difficult sometimes to travel to Austin. But with technology being what it is and our ability to send electronic messages and make phone calls to various offices throughout the state, we really need to do this when we have an issue that is important to us.”
Asked for an example of a successful grassroots campaign that was largely waged from outside of the Valley, Lucio pointed to the Tea Party.
“We are in an era where grassroots efforts have had a bigger impact on the legislative process than ever before. The Tea Party movement is a perfect example of that. The Tea Party is a bottom up advocacy effort that has impacted recent elections and impacted state policy. I think there should be participation from various philosophical camps in that process.”
Lucio said one policy area where Valley residents will need to make their voices is heard is legislation impacting border security and immigration. The region will be directly impacted by any changes in these areas, he explained.
“There are going to be a lot of border security bills, there are going to be a lot of immigration bills that go before the Legislature because of the election campaigns that took place and those issues being part of the debate. If you have a concern about those bills, don’t just call me. Typically, a lot of our folks and I share the same philosophy. Make calls to all the members of the Legislature,” Lucio said.
“Express your opinion. When we receive hundreds of calls on a bill it typically gets our attention. We sit down as an office and we look at what the numbers show, for or against. We also see what parts of the state are calling. If I get a number of calls on border security but they are mostly from Plano, it only means a certain amount. But if I am a state legislator from another part of the state and I have a large volume of calls from the Rio Grande Valley speaking about border security I think that will have a bigger impact. It will have a bigger impact on a member from Houston or from Lubbock or from Waco.”
A reporter offered another example to Lucio of legislation that would have a big impact on the Valley. What about legislation to undo state law that allows undocumented children to receive higher education at in-state tuition levels? “That is an extremely critical issue. I cannot think of a more critical issue for the future of higher education in South Texas. We need to hear from our constituents on this issue. We need to have large numbers of people that are going to hold our state elected leaders accountable, that not only vote in high numbers but advocate in high numbers as well,” Lucio said.
Lucio said that too often his office gets calls after certain bills have already been voted on. “People are upset because a vote has taken place. During the debate, however, we did not have a large volume of people ascending on the Capitol to advocate so the legislation passed, the bill was implemented and folks are wanting to know what the chances are for change. I say, not much, it has already happened. We have to stay ahead of the curve.”
Lucio said the opportunity to influence legislation has been made greater by new technology. “There is no reason not to be engaged, given how much access we have these days to information through the digital process.”
Asked how he will get information to constituents during the upcoming session, Lucio said: “The two most common platforms we try to use daily are Twitter and Facebook. It is amazing. There are various new sources that are coming up, new applications that are starting to be adopted in higher volume. I am glad I have young people in my office, people younger than me that are keeping up with these trends. I think we are just starting to touch the surface of all the different ways we are going to need to communicate with our constituents.”
Lucio said he is pleased with the feedback he gets from followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook.
“So much so that I had a personal page on Facebook and I did not know there was a limit to the number of friends you can have through a personal page so we are trying to navigate people to the political fan page and have them communicate that way. I am just trying to capture as many as these people as possible. Initially, when I started Facebook a majority of the “Friend” requests came from people in Austin and Houston. Now, they are mostly Valley-based, which is very, very, exciting.”
In addition to Twitter and Facebook, Lucio said he also gets his message out via an electronic newsletter that is emailed out to those who sign up for it. “It will be more detailed than some of the stuff we send out on our social media. Then there is always the old-fashioned pick up the phone and call. So, we have various ways people can communicate with us.”
Whichever way a constituent uses to reach a legislator, try to make contact before mid-February, which is when things get super busy at the Capitol, Lucio said. The session runs until the end of May.
“We have committee meetings that can go on all night. We have super long hours. We also have filing deadlines. In fact, the period for filing bills is already open. In order for a bill to get traction you need to start working on that bill, talking to other members, talking to the chairman of the committee, laying the foundation to get a hearing for the bill and a chance of a vote. We need time to work on it. The sooner you can get us your ideas, the better. Sometimes we get fantastic ideas but it is late in the process and it is thus very hard to get it accomplished. So, the sooner the better.”