Rep. Erin Zwiener on the 86th Texas Legislature
“We were always very clear that being progressive and being tribalist weren’t the same thing”
Erin Zwiener (HD-45), a children’s book author and Jeopardy! winner, defeated Republican Ken Strange for the Hays County seat formerly held by Jason Isaac, who retired to run (unsuccessfully) for Congress. She made national headlines when she went into labor at a protest of family separation at the border, then continued to campaign with her newborn daughter Lark on the trail. – Nina Hernandez
Austin Chronicle:Your win made a lot of Democrats happy on election night.
Erin Zwiener: It’s nice to be one of the surprises. I joke that I’m the only person who wasn’t surprised, but the truth is there were a lot of people in Hays County, doing the work on the ground, that saw what was coming. We had a primary and a runoff. I first started knocking on doors in May 2017.
AC: I bet you’ve talked a lot about school finance in that time.
EZ: Especially [because] I have all these brand-new neighborhoods in Kyle and Buda. A lot of folks often don’t really know anything about Hays County politics, or were just new voters in general, or very infrequent voters. And we talked to a lot of folks who were unlikely to turn out, and the main issue we would talk about is the connection between their property taxes and the legislature’s funding for public schools. A lot of folks didn’t realize the reason their property taxes were going up so dramatically is because of the Lege’s failure to fund public schools.
AC: What have you heard from constituents about how they’d like to see you work with Republicans?
EZ: I’m a progressive Democrat; that was in no way a secret. I did not pass to the middle during the general, even though a lot of folks told me I should. But I think authenticity is important, and I think we’re in a moment where people want their politicians to tell them how they really feel; they value that more than whether they agree on every tiny little detail. And I don’t have the stomach to say half of what I mean. But we were always very clear that being progressive and being tribalist weren’t the same thing. I am ready to sit down with anyone when it is consistent with my values. And with public school finance, I think we have a real opportunity. The needs of constituents across Texas – whether Republican or Democrat or Independent or nonvoter – are best met by public school finance reform, and making sure the state pays its fair share. There’s no one whose interest that isn’t in. And both parties know it.
AC: Does the makeup of your district put you in a better position to make strides in that area?
EZ: I believe so. One of the wonderful things about my district is we stretch from the edge of Austin to a small city [San Marcos] to working-class suburbs to wealthy suburbs and then to very rural. There aren’t a lot of districts that have that makeup, and there are fewer represented by Democrats. Being a Democrat from a relatively rural district will make it easier to build alliances with some of the more moderate Republicans from rural areas. The big question with school finance is how we find more funding [and not] just pitting our school districts against each other. I know many more moderate Republicans want us to find new sources of funding. They understand there aren’t enough things to cut, that it’s not an efficiency problem, that we need funding and that funding per student has gone down. But it’s a hard vote for them to take.