• Straus' committee picks show his continued pragmatism

    The Texas Legislature is an ironic place. Historically, U.S. governments have been set up that are composed of a pragmatic upper house (Senate) and a radical lower house (House of Representatives).  

    In Texas, the opposite is true. Nowhere has that become clearer than in the way the leaders of the two respective chambers — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Senate and Speaker Joe Straus in the House — have selected the composition and heads of pertinent committees, the lifeblood of legislatures in the modern era. 

    Patrick, a bombastic right-wing activist elected last year, quickly made good on his promise to slash the number of committees and boot most all of the Democratic chairs from power. Straus, on the other hand, elected by the House's members in bipartisan fashion, largely retained the pervasiveness of Democratic influence in the lower house. Furthermore, for those Republicans selected to lead committees, many moderates received the most plum assignments

    State Representative John Zerwas, R-Richmond, for example, was chosen to lead the House Higher Education Committee. As most media sources quickly noted, Zerwas has recently been a supporter of the Texas Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition at state universities such as this one to undocumented immigrants. State Representative John Otto, R-Dayton, meanwhile, was selected as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with the enviable position of writing the state's budget. In a recent analysis by Rice University, Otto was noted as the fifth most liberal Republican in the legislature while Zerwas was rated the third . 

    Roughly a third of committees will be headed by Democrats, mirroring the proportion of the House itself occupied by the minority party. Most of these committees are rather insignificant, but others are invaluable. The transportation committee will be chaired by state Representative Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. State Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the second-longest serving member of the legislature, will continue at the helm of Local & Consent Calendars, one of the most powerful committees under the dome. 

    The most zealous conservatives, specifically the ones who voted against Straus last month for speaker, were unsurprisingly punished. Special Purposes Districts Committee immediately comes to mind. 

    In continuing his pragmatic and bipartisan approach to House administration, Straus has sent a message back to Patrick: The House will continue being a bastion of real government solutions to problems and not just a breeding ground for right-wing pipe dreams, no matter what the Senate descends into.  

    Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor.

  • Abbott's Chris Kyle Day a move to boost morale

    Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott declared Feb. 2 as Chris Kyle Day in Texas. Kyle, the notorious Navy SEAL marksman who was portrayed in the popular film "American Sniper," is a big deal, especially as of late with the success of the film. Everyone and their mother know about "the guy from 'American Sniper.'" According to this CNN article, "Kyle became a legend in military circles due to his 160 confirmed kills and developed a deadly reputation in Iraq, where he served several times. He's considered one of the most lethal snipers in U.S. history." Kyle was murdered in 2013 at a North Texas gun range by a former Marine.

    Abbott's justification for the introduction of the holiday was based on honoring our military heroes. During his speech at the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention last Friday, Abbott described Abbott as "a man who defended his brothers and sisters in arms on and off the battlefield." His announcement was met with a standing ovation.

    This is a uniquely unpolitical move on behalf of Abbott. While I'm not surprised that such an act of patriotic appreciation is happening in Texas, you would be hard-pressed to find concrete opposition to the holiday. Despite that fact that Kyle earned his notoriety from killing people, he was killed unjustly — something characterized by other holidays we celebrate in the United States.

    While Kyle is no Martin Luther King, Jr. (or John F. Kennedy, for that matter), he is a Texan, and Lord knows Texans love celebrating their own. In fact, the same CNN article reported that "thousands mourned him in his home state, lining a 200-mile route to his final resting place in Austin and attending a memorial service at the Cowboys stadium in Dallas." Kyle was undeniably loved, so why not name a day after him? The words frivolous and unnecessary initially came to mind when I read about Abbott's declaration, but now I realize that this act is just what Abbott needed to boost morale across the state. Regardless of your political affiliation, you can't help but admit that the holiday was instituted for the right reasons.

    Happy Chris Kyle Day to you all.

  • Improved technology does not absolve us of our responsibility to vote

    Editor's Note: This is the first column this semester in a series of weekly responses to Jeremi Suri's columns.

    Our nation is one of meticulous structure and evolving interests. This delicate arrangement has weathered three centuries as disenfranchised groups have fought and continue fighting for Constitutional protections. Today we find ourselves in a unique position. Our “political moment,” as coined by Jeremi Suri in a column last week on the importance of optimism at the beginning of the semester, is of historic proportion. We are the heirs of globalization, interconnected and socialized with an unparalleled diversity of peers and perspectives. Our networks and technologies have expanded beyond conceivable proportions only within the last decade. This position is often scorned by past generations who cannot read it in 140-character tweets or newsfeeds. We are accused of being the “entitled generation” because our access has outpaced our accomplishments. But today, we are equipped to effect change and we have the potential to do more than any generation before us. 

    The brilliant minds who fashioned our democracy held slaves and restricted equality to men, practices which are unforgivable today. Less than 100 years ago, women were taxed without representation. Less than 70 years ago, black and white children were still considered “separate but equal” in public schools. So how is our reality today so vastly different? 

    Of all 27 constitutional amendments, including the Bill of Rights, about 40 percent were ratified in the 20th century alone. That means that of all the changes made to the fundamental structure of our government since its founding, nearly half were done in the past 100 years. The law began recognizing women, African-Americans and immigrants as human and autonomous. People began sharing memories and experiences with their first cameras, computers and gaming systems. Just a decade ago we met Google and then Facebook. No generation before us had instant access to a network of 1 billion people worldwide and trillions of web pages from a pocket-sized, six-inch screen. Google eliminated our language barriers and Facebook transformed our social boundaries. 

    At the core of these changes were people. Entrepreneurs, activists and citizens created these institutions and movements. Today's new Congress, our new governor and our legislature were chosen by voters. We must never forget that this big institution, the “government,” is made up of people. The big technologies, like Facebook and Google, are made by people. The private sector has swelled because of this rapid technological advancement, and the public-private dialogue will react accordingly. The first step of activism is expression -— it’s voting. Only 16.1 percent of young people, of ages 18-29, voted in the Texas midterms in 2010. This means that despite our tweets and posts, 83.9 percent of us do not use our voice where it matters. The prospect to effect change is sustained in our ambitions. We can escape the stunted imagination, low expectations and self-defeating tactics of recent years that Suri describes, but we have to seek change. Through our activism and engagement, we will determine our progress for the next 100 years. 

    Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.