As long as I've been of age to vote, I took my choices seriously and did the research that was needed to help select the best and most qualified candidate. Pffffft! If you believe that, then I've got some ocean front property in Arizona to sell. I hate to admit it, but it hasn't been until recently that I have been doing any sort of research or homework on candidates.
Since I've entered a more mature and responsible phase of my life, ahem, I do actually think about who would be the best candidate for the job and if you've been reading any of my posts recently, you'll know that I'm referring to one race in particular; the race for Texas House District 132. The run-off is in full swing (early voting has started) and the two candidates that are contenders for Bill Callegari's seat at the table in HD 132 are Ann Hodge, Katy Chamber President and Mike Schofield, former adviser to Governor Perry. I already published my interview for Ann Hodges, so here is my interview with Mike Schofield for your information. I wanted to get a feel for both candidates and see where the interview led, and I started out with some basic questions. Here they are in some particular order:
Mike Schofield: Back in 2003 I got hired by the governor to work on tort reform. It's the first time I'd ever worked with the legislature and it didn't take long to realize that this is where I could actually do my service. This is where I could help my community most and make my mark. Some people teach adults to read, other people can coach little league and what I could do was public policy and particularly in the house. I realized pretty early on that I have the facility for legislating and also for figuring out how to get stuff done up there which is very different. It's great to have an idea, it's another thing to get stuff done. The more the governor added to my portfolio, the broader array of issues I got to work on, the more I realized that what my calling was, to serve in the legislature. By the time I'm done, I hope I'm able to provide a service to the community.
KH: How long would you serve if elected?
MS: I have no idea. This district will cease to exist in eight years, so if you were planning on serving for more than eight years, you have no knowledge of that.
KH:What makes you say that the district will cease to exist?
MS:The district is growing so fast, at best, it will be cut in half. It might get decimated depending on the demographics of the county and of the area. They may take pieces from all over the place. They may do any number of things, but at best, it will get cut in half. Which can change everything from not only the size of the district, but the demographics and everything else. I've heard people say they think it will be sliced north and south of 529.
KH:Tell me a little more about your job with the Governor because I'd like to find out more about it myself and to be able to share it with the readers.
MS: I was originally hired to work on the big tort reform bill of 2003. We were losing Dr.'s left and right. Women in the Valley with problem pregnancies had drive all the way to Corpus or San Antonio because doctors were leaving, even doctors who had never been sued were seeing 10% and 15% increases in their malpractice insurance every year to the point where they threw in the towel. So I went up to work on that bill and that was my first assignment that's what I started with. The Governor liked my work and they were in the middle of redistricting so he added election law to my portfolio. Then he added gaming to my portfolio and then for a little while part of insurance although we have a separate person to do that. The more I went along, the more he added. Every time he'd assign me to something, I became 'the guy' for that issue.
By the time I was done, I had those issues, plus anything to do with property rights because I'd worked the eminent domain bill. Plus, as I got more senior, I would be brought in on issues that weren't my responsibility originally as sort of an adviser.
I would get brought in on a number of issues over the course of time, to the point where my last session that I worked for the Governor in 2013, I had 500 bills that I was responsible for. I was responsible for every word of them.. You're not responsible in general, you have to know if something has been added to that bill on a Thursday in April that might make it unpalatable, whether somebody snuck something in in committee OR whether somebody took a part of your bill and put it on somebody else's bill that they might not be aware of. So, it was great training for being a legislator because you have to keep track of where everything is at all times. You have to know how to get things off of your bill, you have to know how to go persuade people to leave your stuff alone, you have to be able to fight to maintain the things that you're trying to pass, and fight to keep bad things from happening. That's essentially the function of a legislator.
KH: What work are you most proud of while you were there in Austin, working for the Governor?
MS: I think I'm most proud of two things; I'm most proud of my work on tort reform over the years, not any one particular bill. I'm proud of being the guy who was responsible for seeing any problems developing anywhere in any legislation and snuffing them out so we don't lose what we've gained in Texas by preventing frivilous lawsuits and by preventing the damage to our economy that happens when you allow the lawyers to run rampant and hold everybody up. The second thing I'm most proud of is my work on the voter ID Bill. It took three sessions of working with legislators, working with stakeholders from around the country about their experiences with their voter ID Bills to get that bill passed. I'm proud of my work on a lot of the text of the bill, making sure that we had free voter ID's so that we couldn't be challenged for violating the poll tax cases. Making sure that we had a strong Photo ID bill that didn't back down to allowing two forms of non-photo ID. The other provisions that we had to work with over the course of the bill to make sure that we not only passed it, but we had a bill that would hold up in court and that would work. Sometimes you see politicians just want to pass a bill so that they get credit for it; it doesn't really matter to them what's underneath the caption. This was really important to us that we got this bill right and it would actually serve to avoid some of the fraud and some of the problems we've seen in elections over the years.
KH: Tell me a little about the work you've done with True the Vote
MS: As the governor's election law adviser I've learned a lot about the way our election system works, so we met with stakeholders, anybody who wanted to meet with us, to let us know what they were seeing in the field and to give them the benefit of our expertise on what the law is and how things are supposed to work. The True the Vote people, particularly Catherine Englebrecht have worked really hard to ensure fair elections. They sent people into places where they weren't welcome to make sure the elections were being run fairly. They took an awful lot of really vicious and inaccurate statements about what they were doing. Politicians wanted to chill their right to go and participate in the process and ensure free elections, and they stayed with it anyway. That's kind of going above and beyond the call but it's also what we need from citizens if we are going to maintain a free society. You can't sit on the sidelines and hope that somebody else does that kind of work, and I really appreciate that they got off the ground and did their due diligence and got out there and learned what they needed to learn about how the system worked and trained everybody at what they were supposed to do when they got to the polling place and recruited enough volunteers to make sure the polling got done.
KH:If something gets passed, any bill, and the public says, "I hate this bill! Call the Governor and ask him to veto it!" Or, let's say something doesn't get passed and the public says, "Hey, what happened here?" How much power or input do the people really have when they call and do that sort of thing?
MS: People can have as much impact on the Texas Legislature as they want. And what I mean by that is, I've had numerous people at their doorstep tell me, "Well, I want to talk to my legislator but I just don't think it matters or people are paying attention." Over the last decade I have spent a lot of time in legislators offices and I can tell you from experience that two or three calls on any one issue lights their entire office on fire. You'll be in there and you'll here, you now, two or three calls about some water issue and suddenly the legislator's saying why is everybody in my district worried about this water issue?
Remember, state legislative districts are fairly small compared to other political districts and legislators also know that they are not that famous or well known, so their name recognition isn't going to carry them through. They can't afford to have people in the district angry at them, so I think that tends to spur people to really pay a lot closer attention to what happens in their district. Particularly during a session when you're not home as much as you are the rest of the time, you rely on the people who speak up. The squeaky wheel gets the grease because you are the conduit to what's going on in the neighborhood.
So, but my short answer to your short question, is that people can have a lot of impact, but it's incumbent on the people to be paying enough attention to contact their legislator before the action is taken rather than after the vote. If you come to your legislator in July and say why did this pass in May, you can't do much good. If you talk to your legislator when a bill is set for a hearing or when it's had it's hearing and maybe there's been a news story about it, you can reach your legislator before he has to vote on it and that's when they can realize that people in the district have a different way of viewing this issue than I thought they did.
KH:That leads me to my next question, how do we keep track of all of the things that are happening in the State Legislature? You get bits and pieces from the news. If I want to keep up with the State Legislature I'm looking at Texas Tribune, or some of the local type things. If a regular citizen says, they see that the state is proposing, xyz, how do we follow those bills?
MS: I never rely on the mainstream media for news about anything about public policy, not just because of their views, but because they tend to report on something after it happens, which is of no use to you. Instead, I would go to whatever source I'm comfortable with learn about the issues I care about. If your interested in general, you go to the Texas Tribune or the Quorum Report or any number of other frees sources where you can learn about what's about to happen. They all have lists of hearings that are coming up. They have discussions about bills that are in the process that haven't had any action yet. Then, I would go to capitol.state.tx.us, which is a great resource, if you play with it for about twenty minutes, you start to learn that you look for things that you care about in any number of ways. You can look up all the bills Schofield has filed. You can say, I want to see all of the things in the State Affairs Committee, because that committee tends to carry the things that I care about. You can also look up the bill by bill number. So if you know representative Schofield has filed bill 123, you can go on and track what's happening with that bill. Once you've got the bill, now you're good. You can follow every step of the process. I cannot emphasize enough, you want to get to a bill, if it's going to have a hearing, you want to get to it before the hearing, so maybe you can testify. Maybe you can talk to the author and you can have a say in what the committee substitutes going to be. If it's about to go to the floor, you don't want to wait until after they voted on it. When it's going to go to the Governor's office, you don't want to wait until after he has signed it or vetoed it, you want to weigh in while he's holding on to it.
KH:What is something you wish more voters knew about the legislative process?
MS:The main thing I wish people knew was how to track the things they care about, because your interests may be different than your neighbors. Each of you should be able to find what it is you care about, where that is in the process so that you can have an impact. That's the number one thing. The number two thing I used to go around to different Republican groups and give a lecture on the state budget, because more people should be able to understand how to find things in that budget, understand how their money's being spent, because it is actually fairly accessible, if you know what you're looking for. It's like learning a language, once you know what you're looking for, you never have to ask me again. You don't have to be dependent on any state rep or any staffer or anybody else because you'll be able to look it up from now on. An educated and an informed electorate is the best possible source of maintaining democracy. It's so easy now.
I listened to this interview and Michael had such great answers and I really enjoyed our time during the interview. He is a wealth of information about the legislative process and what I really liked is that he seemed passionate about making sure the electorate in HD 132 is informed and kept up to speed about things that are happening in the legislature. That's something he and I both agree on, an informed electorate is key.
So, HD 132, we have a great problem on our hands, we have two outstanding candidates to choose from. Please feel free to share this and other blogs of mine or others here on Texas GOP Vote to help make an informed decision on who to best represent you. Early voting started this week and election day is May 27th. Please get out and make your voices heard!