Our elected leaders need to hear directly from Texans of all backgrounds as they weigh the best policies for our state during this legislative session. Texas has one of the worst civic engagement rates in the country. Only 33.6 percent of eligible Texas voters cast a ballot in the 2014 election, the worst rate in the country. An even more dismal number – 8.9 percent – reported that they contacted their public officials in the past year, putting Texas in 49th place in this category, according to the Texas Civic Health Index.
Given these depressing numbers, I’m always happy to see people gathering on the Capitol steps or visiting legislators to share their views. Today I see doctors in white coats, moms with small kids in tow, and – this is Texas after all – a small group of rattlesnake farmers.
So I was delighted last Thursday to see Texas Muslims visiting the Capitol – many for the first time. Imagine my dismay on hearing that these engaged Texans were met with hateful rhetoric. I was a free speech lawyer for many years, and I believe strongly in the constitutional right to disagree. In fact, a healthy democracy depends on it. But a healthy democracy also depends on creating a climate that enables all views to be heard.
It is especially critical that elected officials create a welcoming atmosphere at the Capitol, and I’m proud of the lawmakers who spoke out against the incident and called for civil discourse. We need to encourage more Texans to brave the halls of the pink dome, not discourage them with hateful rhetoric and disruptive tactics.
As Speaker Joe Straus said last week, our Capitol “belongs to all the people of this state.” Let’s all do our part to keep it that way.