Commentary: How young voters can bring truth back to politics

  • Wendy Davis and Christiann Ayala
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:46 p.m Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 Opinion
Mark Matson
Jensen Soderlund, left, president of the Texas Rising chapter at the University of Texas, addresses the crowd at a news conference outside the Capitol this month. To her right are Val Benavidez of the Texas Freedom Network and Wendy Davis, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate.

The way we pass laws in this state is failing young Texans.

Elected officials use lies to pass bad laws. Turning lies into laws hurts our state and risks alienating a rising generation of Texans when we should be doing everything possible to encourage their participation in the political process.

That politicians ignore or distort facts for the sake of their agenda is nothing new — in Texas or across the country. But it’s something that seemed to go into overdrive this year — with devastating effects. Here are a few examples:

This year, Texas lawmakers passed a law allowing child-welfare providers that contract with the state to discriminate against LGBT families in foster care and adoption placements. The law’s supporters argued that the legislation would protect “religious freedom.” The reality is protections for that freedom already existed, carefully balancing the convictions of religiously affiliated child welfare service providers with the needs and beliefs of children they serve. But the truth didn’t matter, and the governor signed the bill into law anyway.

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The issue of abortion should be guided by established science, but instead we again saw how politics and misinformation dominate. This year, lawmakers passed another unnecessary law that bans a safe, medically proven method of abortion. They also enacted a new requirement on fetal remains. Medical experts and others pointed to the deeply flawed arguments behind these measures, but legislators passed them anyway. The truth was legislative leaders were simply looking for excuses to put more obstacles in the way of women seeking safe, legal abortion care.

The Legislature also passed a “show your papers”-style law that targets immigrants and people of color. Law enforcement officials decried the law as making their communities less safe – the opposite of what its supporters assured us was needed to protect public safety.

And let’s not forget about a bill that didn’t become law but triggered a debate dominated by fake facts. The so-called “bathroom bill” targeted transgender Texans for discrimination and was based on numerous lies; the most pernicious of them was the outrageous suggestion that transgender people are an inherent danger to women and children. The bill’s supporters can’t cite incidents in which a transgender person entered a public restroom to harm someone else. The bill was defeated, but there’s a real possibility it – and the lies – will return next legislative session.

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It’s time to end this shameless tactic at the Texas Capitol. That’s why our organizations, Texas Rising and Deeds Not Words, are visiting the state’s universities this month for a series of campus forums. Our message is simple: No more lies into laws. We’re taking this message to our universities as the country nears a major milestone. It is estimated that in 2018, people ages 18-34 will surpass baby boomers to become the country’s largest voting-eligible generation.

This generation of Texans has already been directly affected by another bad law based on misinformation: a voter ID measure from 2011 that bars them from using student identification to vote. Experts pointed out that the kind of voter fraud targeted by this law is virtually nonexistent. But lawmakers passed it anyway because its real purpose was to suppress voting among targeted populations, including young people.

The future of this state is increasingly in this generation’s hands, and some of these Texans will one day represent us at the Capitol. So, it is vital to create an environment that encourages as many members of this diverse group to get involved in the political process — on everything from voting to running for office.

Our fear, however, is that too many members of this generation will see what happened at the Legislature and choose to take a pass. And who can blame them when they see politicians who can’t deal in basic facts?

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We hope our forums on college campuses will start a conversation about how this rising generation can lead and return our politics to a place where reality rules the day.

Untruths will only continue to produce bad policy. Our state can’t continue to run on lies.

Davis, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, is founder of Deeds Not Words. Ayala, a student at the University of Texas-San Antonio, is a member of Texas Rising.