As a family doctor and a specialist in preventive medicine, I tend to view politics through the lens of public health. It is not an exaggeration to say that the residents of Senate District 13 are facing multiple public health crises. At the largest scale, climate change comes quickly to mind; my diagnosis is that the planet has a fever, and needs to be in the intensive care unit. There are multiple other issues also inflicting Harris and Fort Bend Counties. Historically conservative Texas leaders have long produced policies that benefit those who are already doing well economically, while leaving behind large segments of the population. Of the current presidential candidates, my policy positions most resemble those of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Many observers have noted that Texas is on the cusp of a "blue wave" that will transform government in our Lone Star state, and should lead to reversing many longstanding unhealthy policies.
Texas needs to imprison fewer people, and should change incentives to accomplish this.
Texas is a leader in how many of our neighbors we imprison, largely due to uneven application of the laws, and due to unnecessarily strict laws on certain things. Members of communities that have less political power tend to have harsher outcomes when encountering our criminal justice system. This is especially pronounced in the case of black Texans, but also Hispanic Texans. This is largely the legacy of slavery, voter disenfranchisement in various forms, legislative inertia, and more recently, the profit motive.
Growing attention is being paid to something called evidence-based policing. This promising approach is more systematic, and therefore less biased, in assessing which policies and incentives are more effective. It stands to reason that increased law enforcement staffing from the policed communities themselves is likely to lead to better outcomes for everyone involved. This should also improve the stress levels that have contributed to the record levels of suicide seen nowadays amongst cops on the street. Everybody benefits.
Texas should follow the lead of California with a moratorium on new for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers. Existing for-profit facilities should be phased out over time.
Like other states, Texas should limit politicians to a max of eight years in office – fresh ideas are therapeutic.
To get more Texas citizens participating in leadership at the state level, the governor, lieutenant governor, and all Texas House members and senators should be limited to a maximum of eight years. This is done in several other states. Obviously, becoming a "professional politician" means you will be "better at it" because the system is unnecessarily complicated. But it does not mean you should stay there too long. Our law-making procedures should be modernized and simplified, which will reduce the anti-democratic advantage of prolonged incumbency.
Budget & Taxes
Some things are worth investing in -- that requires re-direction, and revenue.
According to some economists (see The Economist, 10/12/2019) this period of very low inflation and very low interest rates is a very good time to invest in the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Over the last two decades, at least, our political leaders appear to have been more interested in tax breaks for the wealthy than in considering the needs of the average Texan.
The budget and the revenue structure should be updated to reflect priorities articulated by a much broader array of voices than we have ever heard before in the Lone Star State. Some people worry that this approach risks "killing the goose that laid the golden egg", but most of the golden eggs were going a very small group of Texans.
Furthermore, local Texas governments, such as municipalities and counties, should be given more revenue-generating authority and flexibility to be able to address some local needs.
Drawing weird district lines to achieve voter suppression is unethical, no matter who is doing it. Creating districts should be non-partisan.
Some things are worth investing in -- that requires re-direction, and revenue.
This common practice, also known as cheating, needs to be a thing of the past. Political districts should be drawn up by non-partisan methods, of which there are several. State Senate District 13 in the Houston area is an example of extreme gerrymandering. The shape was drawn by Republican legislators to make sure that the number of Democratic senators in Austin was as small as possible.
This dilutes the votes of people who tend to vote Democratic, including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, immigrants, LGBTQs, environmentalists, and others. When Texas "turns blue", which is just a matter of time, it will be just as inappropriate for the Democrats to do gerrymandering as it is for the Republicans.
Social & Public Health
The rapid warming of the planet threatens to destabilize human societies.
For many years the Houston area has benefited financially from being the "Petro Metro". Recent record-breaking rainfall events have made it clear that a continued dependence on fossil fuels is not sustainable. If you don't already think this is a high priority, ask Texas teenagers how important it is to them. Our expertise in energy puts us in a great position to be a world leader in renewable forms of energy. Texas energy policies should reflect and encourage this healthy and inevitable disruption to the status quo.
Texas is already a leader in wind energy, but we are seriously under-utilizing our vast sun-drenched potential. Our solar system has a "lone star", also known as the sun. To capitalize on that, Lone Star State communities and entrepreneurs need vigorous solar energy incentives. An even more under-used "source" of clean energy is science-guided energy conservation. Subsidizing urban mass transit and encouraging improved building insulation, to name just two examples, can make the energy transition easier.
Someday we’ll have “Medicare for All”. Until then, Texas needs to accept Medicaid expansion & other measures to improve access.
For several years now Governor Greg Abbott has generously arranged for Texas taxpayers to send their hard-earned dollars to other states to help pay their medical bills. This odd policy needs to be reversed by accepting Medicaid expansion in Texas.
Also, Texas should give more support to local health programs such as Harris Health and the Fort Bend Indigent Health Care Program.
As a family doctor and a preventive medicine specialist, I support policies to reduce and eliminate "food deserts". These are places in poorer Houston and Fort Bend communities that do not have access to affordable healthy foods. Similarly, neighborhoods need abundant safe places to increase their physical activity, including more and better parks and pedestrian/bike paths.
Decriminalizing Drug Use
Police and jailers don't create laws, they just enforce the laws they're given. Law enforcement professionals often readily acknowledge that police and incarceration are poor tools to deal with recreational drug use and drug addiction. Starting a century ago a drug called alcohol was criminalized for 13 years before that policy was discarded as a dismal and expensive failure. Multiple studies have shown that black and brown people do not use drugs more than white people, but are more likely to be punished.
Marijuana use should be legalized, and all other simple drug use/possession should be decriminalized, meaning that people would not be subject to police action or to incarceration. This should improve relations between police and communities that have been most-heavily impacted by unjust drug laws, especially black and brown communities. Under decriminalization drug use is still illegal, but is handled within the health and social sectors. 26 countries have decriminalized drugs and thus been able to devote more resources to other things, including addiction treatment. Other reforms that have been shown to reduce harm from unsafe drug use include: needle and syringe programs, availability of opioid substitution treatment, and medically-supervised drug consumption rooms. Opioid overdose deaths are virtually non-existent in Canada's nurse-supervised "safe-injection sites" because overdose reversal medication is administered immediately.
When people first hear the idea of decriminalizing drug use they may think "it's too radical". In fact, it has been studied for many years as a public policy alternative that is healthier for virtually everyone compared with the current model of putting people behind bars.
Marijuana use should be legalized
Texas should join the 10 states that have legalized recreational marijuana and the 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. We can certainly use the revenue from the corresponding taxation. Legalization of pot use allows for its regulation, which makes it safer to use than in an unregulated system.
Economy & Society
Texas institutions & organizations should seek to decrease excessive “tribalism”. Our fellow Texans are not the enemy.
Tribalism is a double-edged sword -- it can be good (like when we are kind to friends and family, and when we support Houston sports teams) or it can be bad. A tendency to be suspicious of anyone we identify as not being a member of "our" tribe is part of being human. Expecting people to never experience this deep-seated instinct is a waste of time; instead, we need to recognize it and avoid the harm it can cause.
Neighbors that have different religions or skin color or language or culture are nevertheless still members of our "human tribe". We should celebrate the remarkable diversity we see in Texas, and especially in District 13's Houston and Fort Bend communities.
Separation of Church & State
The US Constitution established religious freedom: government should not interfere with religion, or vice versa.
The freedom to practice one's own religion, or to practice no religion, is at the core of the the American democratic experiment. This principle is enshrined in the American Constitution. Most Americans agree that governments should generally not meddle in affairs of religious communities, except where there is a compelling interest. At the same time, particular religious doctrines should not influence government policy at the expense of people with different beliefs. To put it another way, maintaining a separation of "church and state" prevents some belief systems from dominating others.
Jobs & A Living Wage
We are heading toward a new Depression Era. Everyone deserves work, and this should be at a livable wage.
Move toward a full employment economy. Raise the minimum wage, in stages, to $15 per hour by 2025 or earlier. Support small business, the largest generator of jobs, so they can pass the savings on to workers. Leverage the positive role of unions.
Support processes that have achieved improved conditions for workers here and elsewhere. Support affordable day care and paid parental leave.