Rep. Goodwin: While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams
Claire: The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
Nichole: The Martha Mitchell Effect on Netflix; Usher Tiny Desk Concert by NPR and available on YouTube; The Bear on FX and streamed on Hulu
Go behind the ballot with us as we talk to Texas State Representative Vikki Goodwin of Texas House District 47. We discuss the public education system in our state and how it’s funded. Rep. Goodwin explains how our state’s contribution has decreased over time and the implications of that on local school districts. We learn about her political history and how she serves her constituents.
Watch the episode here
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Education: Rep. Vikki Goodwin On The Decreasing State Contribution To Public Education And Its Implications For All Of Us
In this episode, we interview Representative Vikki Goodwin. She represents Western and far South Travis County. She was elected in 2019. She tells us all about her race, how she decided to run and her political upbringing. She gives us some great insights on public education and what it’s like to tackle that huge issue as a representative. There are lots of great nuggets in this conversation, a lot that Nicole and I learned, especially about these different, crazy formulas the state uses for funding public education. Spoiler, not enough. There’s somehow still a surplus that goes back to the state. It’s mind-boggling. Nichole, it’s crazy.
It was crazy. It was an insight that I did not have before. I would also point out and hope that everybody reads to how amazing Representative Goodwin is in terms of how she views her job and that it is about listening to constituents. I love her stance on maybe she won’t always agree but she is always willing to listen. It gave me a lot of hope for who our representatives are. Some people do believe in public service. It was great.
Let’s get to the interview.
To start, we were hoping to learn a little bit about your history and how you even came to this place where you’re a state representative. Could you share with us a little bit about your early life like where you grew up and some of the things you were interested in when you were younger?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I lived there through elementary and high school. I was interested in horses and reading. I could spend an entire day at the library and that would be great for me. I never thought I would get into politics. When I was a kid, I was like, “I wouldn’t run for office.” Oftentimes, I would look at what my parents were doing and say, “I’m not going to do that when I grow up.” My parents both own their businesses and I saw how hard they worked to keep them going. I was like, “I’m never going to have my own business,” but I ended up owning my own business.
I was reading that in an older article with The Austin Chronicle. You mentioned your mother being a Dallas school board trustee. It made me wonder, what were some of your memories of that experience where she did that? Were you walking with her and going to debates?
It’s funny because my mom was very involved with the PTA the entire time I was growing up. If there was a volunteer activity, she signed up for it. She even started an organization called Positive Parents of Dallas, which was to get realtors aware of the good things that the Dallas schools were doing. She grew through that process to where people knew her so well. The superintendent of the schools asked her if she would run for the board.
She said, “The only way you can get me to run for the board is if nobody else is running.” Honestly, in her campaign, I did not block walk. We didn’t do all of that typical fieldwork because she was hand chosen. There was no primary. It was an opportunity for her to pretty easily get into office. My recollection was that while she did do some mailers and simple things like that, maybe some postcards that we labeled and put stamps on, we didn’t do a lot of door-knocking or anything like that. I will tell you that while she was on the school board, I had an opportunity to go with her to Washington DC while the Dallas school board was advocating for the schools. That was a fabulous trip. That’s one of the things that got me so interested in government.
Was there a specific thing within public education that she was on fire for?
The schools in general but there was a bond election at one point in time. The schools were needing some TLC. The high school I went to had a roof issue. When it rained, water would come through and there were buckets in the hallways. When the bond election was coming up, she knew it was going to be tough to pass. She volunteered me, a high school student, to go and speak to a group of people about my experience in the school and why the bond was necessary. They didn’t tell me until I arrived that this was a room full of businessmen so I was intimated as a seventeen-year-old getting up in front of all these men at a luncheon event. I told them about the buckets in the hallway and the condition of our school. Ultimately, that bond election did pass.
I grew up in the Dallas area, in Richardson. The first school where I taught was in Dallas ISD. It was Kramer Elementary in North Dallas. I’m so curious about what high school you went to.
I went to Hillcrest. My elementary school was Dan D Rogers. At the time, they were starting busing in Dallas so that was a big deal in the neighborhood. A lot of the parents honestly pulled their kids out of school at that time because of trying to integrate the schools. My parents were very firm that all kids should get a good education. They’re like, “We’re not going to send you to a private school or anywhere else. We’re going to have you go to the neighborhood school.”
I got the best when I went to middle school at E.D. Walker, which was nowhere near where I live. It’s not a neighborhood school but it was in that effort to integrate schools. I don’t think it was a complete success or failure. It’s hard because most families want their kids to go to school in their neighborhood or as close to it as possible. At the same time, it would be nice to have some diversity.
What was the conversation around the dinner table with you growing up? It sounds like you all did discuss politics. Was there anything specific that you remember your parents impressing upon you when it came to politics?
Around schools, what I recall is my mom often talking about the school finance system. The bottom line is we don’t put enough money into our public schools. We have to wring every little dollar out of the legislature. At the time, DISD was struggling. Now, since I live in Austin, I often hear about DISD struggling with the same thing. We want to be able to give our teacher raises to keep them and retain the best teachers. Salaries have been flat since 2010.There is not enough money being put into public schools. As the legislature, you have to wring every little dollar. Click To Tweet
I went to an event by Raise Your Hand Texas, where a university professor from the University of Houston did us some graphs. It not only has stayed flat but it’s gone down in 2019 dollars. Teachers are not making more than they were back then. That’s crazy. That’s why we see so many teachers leaving the profession. Around the kitchen table, my mom was talking about school finance and how we needed to fix it. We’re still dealing with that problem.
Why do you think the Texas Representatives don’t prioritize funding schools? What’s the hang-up?
They’re so used to always being conservative with their dollars like, “We need to have this big piggy bank, which is our rainy-day fund. We are always so conservative when it comes to fiscal matters.” Honestly, I’m a fiscal conservative as well but we don’t have our priorities right. The Republicans are spending $4 billion on Operation Lone Star and border security. We’re not doing a good job of it at all.
We have migrants coming to the US and dying. It’s a terrible situation. The Republicans tend to look at things from a very different lens. If we could take the dollars that we have coming in and say, “Our highest priority is our students,” a better-educated population leads to more success all across the board. Let’s pay our teachers well and not make our schools struggle so much.
It’s values and priorities and what it is that you deem as important because it seems obvious that we could find the money if it were a true shared value of leadership. That hurts my heart. It seems so obvious. I don’t know if that’s my point of view because I come from a family of school teachers. I was a school teacher. I have children. All of those things prime me to feel as if it’s the most obvious value and priority in the world to educate children. For me, it’s difficult to understand how you can’t make that connection. That’s what our state needs to thrive in the long run. This path that we’re on isn’t sustainable in terms of having a thriving population. It’s not as simplistic as I want to think that it is.
All problems are complex. Sometimes what I hear from some Republicans is, “We put a lot of money into our schools.” There’s a waste. In my opinion, we should perhaps do a study on what it cost to educate a child. Years ago, we were in a better position in terms of the amount of money we spend per child but we don’t have any mechanism to increase that over time. Every year that goes by, we fall short. I do recall in 2019, we had gotten to where the state was getting close to an equal share with local school districts.
To me, it should be 50/50. The state should be chipping in 50% and the school district is 50%. At that time, it was around 45% state share and then we’re down to 34%. The state is continually every year putting in less while the school districts are making up that difference. That’s why I hear so often people say, “Why do my property taxes go up so much?” It’s this very poor funding system that we have for our schools.
Let’s pause on that or highlight this. What is that pie? How are schools funded?
State funding is 34%. Federal funding is about 10%. Local funding so from the different school districts is 52%. Recapture is the final 3.5%. The bulk of it does come from our local school districts. The other fact is that charter schools get public dollars but 100% from the state because they don’t have school districts. The funding for traditional public schools and charter schools is very different. One hundred percent of their funding comes from the state.
What’s recapture? I don’t know what recapture is.
It’s the idea behind making sure every district and student in the state is going to get an equitable education. You’ve got some areas of the state where their income levels or property values aren’t as high as other places so less property wealth. Through their property taxes, they can’t raise enough to even support the student’s basic allotment, which is a basic amount that we think each student needs to be educated. They’ll take money from the wealthier districts and transfer it to the less well-off district.
Is this what used to be called Robinhood?
The technical term is recapture, which is an oxymoron because it’s like, “Who is recapturing the money if the state should be the taking system so that we can share and make sure all districts are well funded?”
It makes me wonder hearing you talk about these different formulas. Who’s determining the formulas for how much the state pays? How much do local property tax entities pay? Why are charters different? Who’s making these behind-the-scenes decisions?
It is the legislature. In 2019, we did tweak the formulas. We added more to the basic allotment. We bumped that up to $6,160 per student. On top of that, every student gets weights. Let’s say if they are an English language learner, they get a little extra. If they’re on the free lunch program, they get extra. If they’re on a reduced lunch program, they get extra. There are a lot of different weights that are given for different reasons. There are all these super complex things about a golden penny.
It is very ultra-complicated. It’s like the IRS text code. I wish we could simplify it so that everybody understood exactly what was happening. I’ve asked for data on how much teachers get paid across the state. How much are the lower socioeconomic areas paying their teachers a lot less? Are charter schools paying their teachers less? How does it work out? It has not a lot of rhyme or reason but it has to do with this very complicated formula and whether the districts are getting an adequate amount to pay their teachers well or not.
There are a few things that I would suggest to make it a better formula. One of which is making sure we have an annual adjustment to it. If you think about it, typically inflation means that your dollars buy less every year. I proposed in 2019 that we have an automatic adjustment that’s equal to the rate of inflation or 3%, whichever is less. For the last few years, the rate of inflation was less. In 2022, the rate of inflation would be higher. It would be capped at that 3% but it would keep the basic allotment increasing. That would make a huge difference in recapture.
The second thing I would suggest is that we look at the cost of living like the housing cost. Austin teachers are having a hard time paying for rent in Austin or even mortgages if they’re having to buy a home. It’s expensive to live in Austin. We could give an allowance for that. The third thing I would suggest is that TDA has been calling some of our education dollars surpluses. They’ll go through the formulas and say, “We received more money than is needed.” Those are surplus dollars. Once they label it as surplus, those dollars can go back to the legislature and we could be spending them on anything.
Those dollars could be going to Operation Lone Star on the border, which has nothing to do with education. My bill would not allow that practice. It would say if these dollars are intended for our schools, they either stay in the schools or go back to the taxpayers who paid those taxes. I want us to keep those dollars and spend them on our schools. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to use them for a purpose other than intended.
It’s strange to me. How is their surplus when teachers aren’t paid enough, there was COVID and all these adjustments had to be made in school facilities and public education is expensive?
It boils down to those formulas.
I was attaching all this emotion to it. What would be the motivation for labeling it surplus? It’s not emotional. This is about dollars and how they added up. That is what the formula deemed surplus. That helps. In my mind, I was like, “What are you doing? How could you do that?” That’s not how it works. It’s much drier than that.
I feel like maybe we could give them a provision that says if there are surplus dollars, let’s find a use for them within our schools. I have so many superintendents who have said, “We would love to have more mental health counselors in our schools. We just don’t have the budget for it.” Everybody realizes what an impact COVID has had. Even before that, we were dealing with a lot of mental health issues. Anxiety is out the roof, also stress and so forth in our young people. It would be helpful to have more dollars allocated to mental health within our schools.
I was sharing this with Nichole. Speaking about money for schools, I joined the Del Valle Education Foundation and our whole goal is to raise money for the district above and beyond what the taxes provide for the operations of the school. I’m glad I can do that but it’s crazy that when it comes to needing extra, it’s not like, “Gave us back this surplus.” It’s like, “Community members, can you give us money?” People are like, “I pay taxes.” “It’s not enough. We need some more.”When running for office, you need to hire people that know what they're doing. And, whatever advice they give, follow it. Click To Tweet
The first time I heard that teachers get federal credit for buying supplies for their classrooms, I was like, “People know this is happening.” It seems crazy to me that we rely on teachers to buy school supplies for their classrooms.
I shared with Claire that the last school I taught at was 90% low SES. It had become common practice that you hoarded supplies. Every year, when Target would have their back-to-school sale and spirals round sale for $0.10 each, I buy them in bulk and store them. When construction paper was on sale, I’d buy it like crazy. When I came to Austin, I wound up at a wealthy school in Central Austin. That wasn’t the case anymore. The parents were able to supplement all the supplies that we needed. I was still in that habit of hoarding. It took me a long time to get over that and stop spending money to recognize that I didn’t have to anymore but it’s wild how different it can be from district to district and school to school.
That gave me an idea about supplies and being able to allocate some money for supplies in some of the lower socioeconomic schools.
It would make a huge difference. One thing I can say too is to that last school where I was in Dallas, shout-out to the parents there who wanted to fully shop that school supply list and bring supplies in with their kids. They were doing the best that they could. I don’t even think I had many kids who didn’t come with supplies. Even if it wasn’t the exact list, it was pretty darn close but those things run out. That gets you started in the beginning. Beyond that was when things would get a little dicey.
I’m glad we’re talking about public education. To kick off our show, we’re going to be talking about public education, back to school and helping people to understand how public education more or less works in Texas since it’s very state-specific, the way public education is funded, what things are taught and all of that good stuff. To back up a little bit, I’d love to hear more about your run and what led you up to your run. Was there a moment where you thought, “I could be a state representative and be the one making those big important decisions that sparked like, ‘I’m going to do this?’”
I honestly worked on a lot of other people’s campaigns prior to deciding to run myself. I always thought, “That’s what I’ll do.” I will help other candidates win their races. 2016 happened, that was a shock. In 2017, my youngest child was a senior in high school. I had seen my House District being held by a Republican who wasn’t very receptive or open to hearing our suggestions.
I thought, “This would be a good time to run.” My first step was to talk to the person who had run previously on the democratic ticket to talk to people who are very politically involved because while I had volunteered on campaigns, I had not been super plugged into the politics of the area. I set up a bunch of meetings. I met with people that were in elected positions, people who had been campaign consultants and people who had helped the last candidate run that election.
With all those conversations, I got positive feedback. If I had gotten any negative feedback, I might not have run but I continually got positive feedback and encouragement. I said, “I’m going to put everything I have into this election.” Most people didn’t think I could flip the seat because it had been held by a Republican for four terms. I thought, “What I’ll do is hire people that know what they’re doing to lead my campaign. Whatever the advice they give me, I’m going to do my best to follow that advice.” I had heard the prior candidate had not followed the political consultant’s advice. I thought, “What can I lose?” I ran and won. It’s very exciting.
The Republican you ran against, was that the Republican that was already in that seat or was it an open seat that you’re running for?
He was in the seat. It was Paul Workman. He had been there for four terms. I don’t think anyone expected that the seat would flip but in 2018, there were twelve seats across the state that flipped from Republican to Democrat. We all ran on very similar platforms with public education funding being one of our top, if not the top issue. It made a huge difference when we got into the legislature. That was the whole conversation. My first session was about putting more money into our public schools, which was great.
You touched on this a little bit. I was going to ask about the race that you had in 2018 for HD 47, which to set some context is Western and far South Travis County.
A huge chunk of the Western part was taken out of my district. I have a hard time describing my district. It is the furthest most Western piece of Travis County. If you look at the map, it looks like a microscope that’s tilted on its side. It’s very hard to describe the district but I can tell people some of the larger neighborhoods like Steiner Ranch, parts of Lake Travis, B Cave, Circle C and Shady Hollow where I live.
Your district tends to be a swing district. Republicans going back and forth. What were some of the obstacles that you faced initially? Were they more internal obstacles for you during your race or external?
The biggest obstacle is not having ever run for office before and not knowing what I was doing but I had some wonderful campaign staff who helped a great deal. Everybody says you have to raise an awful lot of money and that is very frightening and intimidating for most beginner candidates. They would tell me this outrageous figure, “You have to raise $400,000.” I would be like, “Whatever, I’ll do my best.” We ended up raising that much, which to me is incredible. I always think about what all that money could do for people.
A lot of the money spent on campaigns goes to people. You’ve got people who are knocking on doors to get paid and some people who are phone banking get paid. You have as many volunteers as you can have. The reality is in this busy world, it’s hard to get enough volunteers to knock on as many doors as you need to so we did pay some of them.
In case, we have readers who are thinking of running one day, how did you find good staff for your campaign, especially being a first-time candidate?
I looked at some of the other elected officials in Travis County and asked them who they had used. One of my campaign consultants was Alfred Stanley who has worked on campaigns forever in Austin and Michael Tomlinson, who has worked on campaigns for a long time. They were an amazing team. Alfred Stanley helped with my fundraising. We met the goal that I thought was impossible. Michael Tomlinson has a turnkey company that does everything from mail to phone banks to block blockers. Their help was critical to me winning the race.
Finding them though, I will say there are not enough campaign workers to go around. It’s a tough business because it’s so cyclical. There’s a lot of work because we have an upcoming election but then what do they do when the election is over? They have to figure out a business model that allows them to make a lot of money in a short period and then go for a stretch without any income. It’s not an easy business. Therefore, you don’t see a ton of campaign workers.
It’s tough for sure. There are organizations like Annie’s List that help fill this gap by training folks so that there is some staff there but it still feels like playing catch. It’s never going to be enough.
Annie’s List of the world is phenomenal. They do great work with their training sessions. I went to a lot of their training as well. I can’t thank Annie’s List enough.
It sounds like you had been maybe thinking about running and decided, “I can see this being a possible option.” Was there one thing that kept you motivated during those days when you were like, “I don’t want to make those phone calls but I got to raise that money?” Was there an image in your mind like, “If only I could change school of finance,” or whatever that fill-in-the-blank is? Was there something like that that was propelling you to keep going?
Few people thought it was a winnable raise so it was like, “I’m going to put my heart and soul into it until election day and we’ll see what comes.” I’ll be happy to be able to tell my kids, “I did my part to try to change Texas and make Texas a little bit better. Public education is important to me but the environment is very important to me too as gun safety. Those are the three of my top issues. Thinking that I could have a positive influence in our state that I love got me going. I didn’t feel like it would be devastating if I lost. I felt like I’m going to put everything I can into it.
It sounds like you had a healthy perspective the whole time.
It’s like that perfect attachment but not attachment too. It turns out okay. The effort was important to you too. I want to know what it felt like to win.The job of a representative is to represent, which means that you hear and see your constituents. Click To Tweet
It was great. You always want to win but on the night of the election, we went to the Driskill Hotel where the Travis County Democrats were having their election night party. My husband was very tickled by the response from Representative Gina Hinojosa. She was like, “I didn’t think she would win.” He’s incumbent and it’s a Republican-drawn seat. It’s tough.
One of the things that helped me is that he didn’t have a good answer about what to do about school finance. Not having an answer was not very good. You should have some answer to that question because it’s on everybody’s minds. There’s a lot of excitement. It’s cool early on when you’re in the capital and people come up to you and say, “Hi, Representative.” That tickles me. It’s very cool.
The thing I admire about you as an elected official is that you’re so accessible to your constituents and constantly have opportunities for engagement like the coffee chats that you have and even during COVID, you had them on Zoom. I like that you make yourself available to listen to what’s on people’s minds and what they care about. If anything, what representatives should be doing is listening, hearing and trying to make a difference. If you’re not out on the streets, how can you ever know what are the priorities of regular folks?
That’s a job of a representative. You’re supposed to represent, which means that you hear and see your constituents. One of the most fun parts of the job is being out and getting feedback, not just from people who agree with me on everything but people who have a different perspective. We all change our minds. It’s very interesting to know why people believe something different than me. I like getting out in public. Senator Sarah Eckhardt is someone that I’ve followed and emulated because she’s done the same thing. I went to some of her coffee jolts and I was like, “That’s a great way to connect with people.” It’s not all my ideas but I’m good at seeing other people doing good things and then copying.
How do you balance holding your values and priorities with those of your constituents? Let’s say you do have interactions with your constituents and the things they care about are very much like, “I don’t want to push that forward.” How do you reconcile that?
I always try to hear what they’re saying and what position they’re coming from. There are some times when I don’t agree. I’ll give an example. I had some constituents reach out and say, “I don’t believe companies should force their employees to get vaccinated.” I feel very strongly that vaccinating people is how we get past COVID and that’s so important. We can’t have workers out there in grocery stores or restaurants unvaccinated.
The public should be vaccinated but that was one issue that I felt like I’m not going to change my stance on. I stand behind it. Some people are upset because they or someone they know lost a job as a result. It’s too important. There are sometimes when I’m not going to change my position. There are some other issues where hearing what constituents have said has made me think, “That’s something I hadn’t considered before.”
It sounds like the willingness to listen is what is the backbone of all of this. You are willing to hear people out but you also have a sense of what your moral compass is, for lack of a better way to put it so that it’s like, “I hear you but this is the limit of what I can do about what I’m hearing from you.” Sometimes those things will be in alignment and sometimes not but the willingness to listen is so important. Kudos. It’s nice to hear.
People appreciate it even when we don’t share the same view. It’s more appropriate to respond and say, “I don’t agree,” than to ignore. People sometimes feel ignored by elected officials. They don’t hear what I’m saying. I want to let them know, “I hear what you’re saying. I don’t agree with you but here’s why.”
An important thing that I didn’t consider is that acknowledgment. Sometimes I do think that we’re in a climate where people are maybe scared to be honest about disagreeing because things have become so contentious. There is a well-reasoned and calm way to disagree. We’ve just somehow lost sight of it. I’m glad that you pointed that out. I’m going to use that in my life.
Representative Goodwin, you’re incredible at listening to everyone’s opinions saying, “I disagree” at times. How do we get our elected officials who aren’t listening to listen? How do we get their attention? A lot of people do feel very frustrated and disempowered because they’re not being heard. Is there a way to break through and let them know, “This does matter to me. Please do something about it?”
I’ll give an example of the gun safety issue. I had a pastor reach out to me and say, “What can I do to help with this issue?” I told him, “Here in Travis County, all of us in the delegation and the House agree that we need to pass some gun regulations, whether it is raising the age to buy an assault rifle.” What we’ve got to do is talk to people who are not in Travis County. For this pastor, in particular, I said, “Do you have a connection to other pastors throughout the state who might be willing to talk to their representative?” There are a few Republican members who acknowledge that what’s happening with guns is horrendous. Unfortunately, the members who are on the committee overseeing gun regulations tend to believe that more guns make us safer.
It is a continual conversation with what we can see by what’s happening that more guns do not make us safer. We’ve got to do something about it. We’re having people reach out beyond Travis County and the blue bubbles, talking and educating. There are a lot of places in Texas where there’s not even a Democrat running for the Texas House, for example. They aren’t hearing what the conversations are. It makes it easier for those representatives who don’t have someone running against them in a general election to discount all of those people in their district.
It gets to a point where the people in some of the more rural counties who are Democrats don’t want to acknowledge or admit that. They won’t fit the yard signs up and talk about politics at all. We have to make it so that they feel comfortable talking about some of these issues. It shouldn’t be political. Making kids feel safe going to school is not political. We’ve got to get to where people feel safe having these conversations outside of the safe counties like Travis County.
I have a son who’s going to be starting public school. It’s a little terrifying because you’re like, “I hope he’s safe.” Some parents are seriously considering, “Do I even send my child to public school? Do I send him to a private school? Do I homeschool them?” They’re pulling out of the system together. That is almost a bigger fear for me because it’s chipping away at this public institution that’s so valuable. The more of us that participate in it, the more it starts to crumble.
The thing that scares me the most is that we collectively decide maybe this isn’t something we prioritize anymore but we can’t. We have to keep putting it to the forefront because that’s how we have our engaged citizenry and make sure we have workers for tomorrow but to help our kids be good citizens and members of society and help them grow emotionally, intellectually, mentally and all those important aspects. Thank you for helping in that endeavor and pushing for funding, safety and the things that matter to a lot of us parents.
I know how hard it must be for parents. Every day I talk to somebody who says, “We’re thinking about maybe homeschooling.” It’s like, “We have to support our public schools and believe in their safety.” That’s something that I will continue to push for.
What do you wish Texans knew about being a representative, maybe something that is like, “If they only knew this thing, I can’t fix that?” Is there something that comes to mind about maybe misconceptions people might have?
All the time when I talk to voters, a lot of times, if they are not as politically tuned in, they don’t know what the state government does for them. They often will think about what the federal government does or maybe what the city does but oftentimes, they don’t know what their state representative does. I would love to see more civics education so people understand. It’s very complicated because you have so many different levels of representation. The county is thrown in there as well.
I always ask people a little pop quiz. “Who is your state representative?” I don’t want to put them on the spot if they don’t know. Sometimes, I’ll help them out a little bit but it’s also interesting for me to find out, “Do they know that I’m their state representative, Donna Howard or somebody else?” I try to give a little bit of education and tell them that it’s so important to vote every time but if you don’t know who the candidates are, you can always go to Vote411.org. Type in your address and it’ll give your ballot. It’s a wonderful tool and resource.
I try to share that as much as I possibly can. I have always encouraged people to vote as much as possible. My parents were good at that. I have always gone out and voted. The one time that it was hardest was when my kids were babies. This last session I did add an amendment to a bill that allows pregnant women or women who have given birth to be able to vote by mail. I was very proud of that one very small achievement.
I voted by mail in the presidential primary claiming a disability. I was like, “It’s COVID. I’m pregnant. I hope I don’t get in trouble for this. Do I want to risk it? I could get COVID.” At that time, it was still very uncertain. We appreciate that having been through pregnancy. It helps.
When I brought that bill forward, the chairman of the Elections Committee said, “We don’t need that because women can go vote by mail because it’s a disability.” They didn’t say, “Claim it because it’s a disability.” I was like, “No, being pregnant is not a disability.” I get it in your case during COVID times and needing to do that for your health but I didn’t appreciate the thought from him that pregnancy is a disability.
I had anxiety like, “Is this a disability? Am I getting trouble?” There’s not a lot of clarity and I’m a rule follower. I felt like maybe I’m bending a little bit but I appreciate the clarity because that helps us all.There are a lot of issues that representatives can help with that don't involve passing legislation. Click To Tweet
We need to build trust back in the postal system and make sure they deliver our mail in a timely manner.
Going back to state government, Nichole and I are hoping with this show to help demystify it and help people understand a little bit more about what their representatives do at the state level but also the city level and the county level. A lot of times when you have an issue, you’re like, “My road doesn’t work,” and you call someone. You don’t know who has jurisdiction over what so we’re hoping to make that clear, more understandable and accessible. When you have problems, there is someone there who should in theory have your back, help you and make a difference. We’re on that.
That’s exactly it, demystify it all and make it more accessible.
We’ve had meetings with constituents on so many different issues. In a neighborhood nearby, there was a fire. They don’t have fire hydrants in their neighborhood. They didn’t know who to reach out to. They reached out to the county, the city and the state. We ended up pulling different people together to talk to them about some options that they have. We’re always happy, even if it’s not in my jurisdiction, to try to bring people together.
Another example is a water quality issue on Lake Travis dealt with LCRA, the City of Lakeway, TCEQ and the residents. We tried to bring all of them together. I will say TCEQ did not make it but everybody else did. A lot of times we have constituents reaching out about road and traffic issues. We’ll talk to Ted Scott to see if there’s something that we can do. A lot of times Ted Scott has been able to help with planning for a right turn lane or putting up some devices to make it clearer where people are allowed or not allowed to make left turns. There are a lot of issues that we can help with that don’t involve passing legislation.
Nichole, do you have any lingering last-minute questions?
I don’t. I feel like you answered questions I didn’t know I had. I don’t have any new ones but I liked that last little tidbit you shared, which is maybe not to underestimate what you all can do but instead, reach out and ask questions. Even if you can’t be of help, it sounds like you would direct people and create coalitions to help people. That’s great.
Let’s say someone has a state representative, not as amazing as you are. Where would you suggest that they go? Should they try someone in a neighboring district to help them? What would be the next step if they aren’t being heard?
It depends on what the situation is. For example, at the congressional level, we often don’t get the responses we want but Congressman Doggett has always been very helpful saying, “I may not be your representative but I’m still happy to listen to you and see what I can do to help.” He will be my representative. I’m so excited.
The same thing, if there was anybody in Travis County, Hayes or Williamson that reached out to me about an issue and they said, “I’m not getting the response I want,” I would certainly see what I could do to help. I hear from people all around the state about gun regulations or environmental issues because of the committees that I’m on. Reaching out to someone that you think will listen, I say, “Go for it.”
To wrap up, we want you to mention something that’s got your attention. If it’s a book, a movie or an article you read, is there anything that you can’t stop thinking about?
I love to read and I’ll a ton of books but right at this very minute, I’m reading a book by Stacey Abrams. It’s a novel. It’s a governmental spy thriller-type thing. I can’t remember the name of it but it’s something to do with the capital. It’s got my attention. I’m enjoying that.
I’m also a romance writer so that connection to Stacey Abrams, even though this isn’t a romance is always something that warms my heart so much. What is catching my attention? There are many things I could say. You go first because I don’t want to repeat what I already put on social media. I want something new.
Speaking of books, I’ve been reading this book. It’s so good but so sad. It’s called The Girls Who Went Away. It’s about stories from women between 1940 to 1973, before Roe versus Wade passed, that were essentially forced to give up their children for adoption. It was a time when it was after the war. A lot of these were women in middle-class families. These families were like, “If you don’t get married to the man you got pregnant with, you’re not going to keep your baby because you’re going to bring all this dishonor on our families. They would go away to these homes for unwed mothers.”
They had been told all the time, “You’re going to forget about the experience. You’re going to move on with your life, get married and have children of your own. It’ll vanish from your mind.” Spoiler alert, it did not vanish. It’s the stories of these women who are grown adults talking about that experience and how they’ve carried it with their whole lives, how awful it was, devastating and traumatizing. It’s sad to know that this happened but also very relevant because when we talk about adoption as an alternative to abortion, you hear in these stories that it’s so different than that. I recommend it. If you want a good cry, you will have one. If anything, for that knowledge, it’s so important to not forget what happened.
I looked at the big title While Justice Sleeps.
I will repeat social media because that will give people a reason maybe to come to check out our social media handles but I enjoyed the Martha Mitchell Effect on Netflix. I loved everything about her. She was such a loud mouth woman but I love that she was super ladylike but also super opinionated and was not going to shut up. It’s only 40 minutes, which is also a little nice for a documentary. I also got the biggest kick out of the Usher Tiny Desk Concert. It was incredibly fun to watch. I’m in a round-it-out with The Bear on FX. It’s a great restaurant show that’s super contained and immersive. That’s me.
Thank you so much for your time, Representative Goodwin. We appreciate you helping us understand more about your responsibilities and the way the state functions. We’re hoping it’ll help other folks understand more and at least know where to turn when they do have questions. Thank you very much.
I’ve been thinking about how we get young people more civics education. Even people my age needed it but if we can start young. Jolt is doing some of that work but I keep thinking, “What can I do anyway?” This is great. Thank you and it was very nice seeing you, Nichole.
It’s nice to meet you too, Representative Goodwin. Thanks.
- Representative Vikki Goodwin
- Raise Your Hand Texas
- Del Valle Education Foundation
- Alfred Stanley
- Mykle Tomlinson
- Annie’s List
- Senator Sarah Eckhardt
- The Girls Who Went Away
- While Justice Sleeps
About Vikki Goodwin
Vikki Goodwin is a state representative serving her second term in the Texas Legislature. She represents western Travis County including parts of Austin, Westlake and Lake Travis. She is proud to be one of the fifty-seven Texas Democrats who broke quorum to protect the freedom to
Vikki is passionate about investing in public education, expanding access to affordable healthcare, protecting the environment, making communities safer through sensible gun regulations, and offering opportunities for success through good jobs and job training. Vikki and her husband raised their kids in Austin, and now run a small business, Goodwin and Goodwin Real Estate.