Rep. Sheryl Cole, HD 46

“I try to keep the lines of communication open [and] help them ... so they’ll help me”

Rep. Sheryl Cole, HD 46
Courtesy of Sheryl Cole

Rep. Sheryl Cole laughed when asked how she would pass the bills she has filed this session, given that she's a Democrat and Republicans have an 85-65 majority in the Texas House. She described the oft-cited formula – the cultivation of personal relationships with political opponents – that supposedly makes representative government work.

"I try to keep the lines of communication open and talk to them about things that don't have anything to do with the Legislature," she said of her Republican colleagues, many of whom are arguing against taking any input from Democrats, let alone allowing them to chair committees, as all four GOP House speakers have done since the party reclaimed the chamber in 2002. (Look up former Rep. Matt Rinaldi, now chair of the Republican Party of Texas, to see the message in its purest form.) "I try to help them on ideas they need help on so they'll help me on the ideas that I need help on."

Cole is hoping this approach can move bills that, among other things, would allow Austin emergency medical services medics attending public universities to get the same tuition exemptions as firefighters (House Bill 683), require law enforcement to properly mark their vehicles (HB 684), and legalize fentanyl testing strips to address the overdose crisis (HB 685), an idea that's already garnered support from key members across the aisle.

In addition to working her bills, Cole will challenge Republican efforts to pass a "school choice" voucher program to divert tax dollars now paid to public education toward private schools. This is a big prize for the GOP's cultural warriors, both religious and secular; Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and other Republican leaders have lined up behind Senate Bill 176, which rural Republicans oppose strongly and which Cole says would have a devastating effect on public education.

"I know they're going after vouchers pretty strongly, and that will really hurt us if they get that," Cole said. "The House Democratic Caucus will be all over that. We'll come up with a coordinated strategy to have points of order and amendments to put on it."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

school vouchers, Sheryl Cole, Greg Abbott, 88th Legislature

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