by Alán de León

Okay, so you should now possess the knowledge about the county and state primary elections (if you read the previous blogs), but now let’s get federal. We know all the buzz is around the Governor’s race as it is among the more high-profile races that usually draws people out of their homes and to the polls. While Texas voters will elect many important state and local level public officials, ranging from Justices of the Peace, County Judges, to the Attorney General, this is also a critical election for federal-level offices, namely U.S. House Representatives. While MOVE Texas is all about voting local, we know much of what happens at the federal level influences the way our local offices act.

Serving 2-year terms, elections for U.S. House Reps happen at a relatively high frequency compared to the Governor who serves 4-year terms, or even U.S. Senators who serve 6-year terms (although neither of Texas’ two senators is due for reelection this year, we’ll have to wait for 2024 for that 😭).

What’s New?

This year’s election for U.S. House Reps is particularly important because it is the first one since the results of the 2020 census. Its findings mean Texas is one of 6 other states due to gain representation in Congress, specifically in the form of not one but two additional U.S. House seats in Congress for a total of 38 (only behind California’s nation-leading 52 seats). This is because Texas’ population grew from 25.1 million in 2010 to 29.1 million in 2020 – a 4 million person increase, which is greater than the entire population of 22 other states.

This dramatic growth, overwhelmingly driven by people of color, comes not only with perhaps more congested highway traffic in some of our major cities (speaking from experience as an increasingly frustrated Houstonian wishing for expanded multi-modal transportation, deep sigh), but also with significant political implications. Depending on where you live in the greater Austin and Houston areas, you may likely have the opportunity to vote for and elect the first-ever candidates for Texas’ newly created U.S. 37th and 38th Districts, respectively (ok trendsetting and trailblazing). These new seats are simply what you deserve, and more than anything it’s what you NEED.

Why should U.S. Congress People matter to me?

Aside from those new congressional districts, most Texans will have a chance to vote for a new U.S. House rep, and we should all be putting serious attention to these positions. Out of all the offices that will be on the ballot, U.S. congress people are arguably the most powerful – especially when considered as a whole.

When it comes to our day-to-day lives, state and especially local governments often have a more direct impact than the federal government. Part of the reason is that the federal government often acts very slowly on issues, especially in states of emergency: if a hurricane strikes our coastal communities, county governments often deploy emergency response resources quickly and before other levels of government does; if our electrical grid fails, it is primarily up to the state government to ensure its ongoing resiliency and keep the lights on; to enhance public safety in our towns and cities, city council members and mayors can together implement needed reforms in short order. We know, none of this is exactly a selling point as to why you should participate in the federal elections, but we are getting there!

When the U.S. Congress does act, it has the power to make profound changes to our way of life and can establish conditions for wider prosperity and security in ways that the other levels of government cannot. Actions taken at a federal level inform the decisions our state and county level officials take, and there are major issues that only the federal legislators have the capacity and full resources to address.

Art by MOVE Texas Artist Alumna Gaby Tijerina

Well, what can they do that my local government can’t?

Let’s talk about climate change for instance. It is estimated that $50 trillion worth of resources is needed to stop global warming, including investments in renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles, battery technology, green housing and jobs, and more. Local and state climate action is necessary, but with a combined annual budget of $130 billion, even if the City of Houston and the State of Texas dedicated their entire public funds to combating climate change, it would only amount to a 0.002% contribution of what is needed. Indeed, an unprecedented level of economic mobilization and international cooperation will be required to resolve this issue. But the U.S. federal government has the financial capacity to spend to the tune of trillions of dollars (as it has recently done with the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act alone), so its role should be to support cities and states with addressing climate change at the necessary scale. This is exactly what the Green New Deal calls for, and it is our Congressional representatives that must drive this legislation forward.

Congress is also most equipped to protect and expand voting rights in our nation. The recently passed Texas Senate Bill 1 has codified various forms of voter suppression in the state, including bans on drive-through voting, 24-hour polling places, the distribution of mail-in ballots, and more. State authorities have also drawn new electoral maps from the 2020 census, which has instituted egregious and discriminatory forms of partisan gerrymandering which are currently being disputed in court. With these attacks on democratic practices, we need federal policymakers to champion legislation that will enact non-partisan gerrymandering, automatic and online voter registration, expanded mail-in ballot voting, revived federal preclearance, and campaign finance reforms – all policies which can advance and protect voting rights in our state.

The U.S. federal government can also play a key role in addressing racial injustices and making our communities safer. The United States has the highest jail and prison population globally, with nearly 2 million people currently incarcerated. Texas, in particular, has an incarceration rate even higher than the U.S. average that disproportionately impacts people of color. Black Americans are incarcerated across the country at nearly five times the rate of white Americans, and Latine people as much as four times in some states. Moreover, 45,000 people died of gun violence in the U.S in 2020, a 70 percent increase since 2014. Federal lawmakers can have a crucial role in dealing with these crises by passing measures like legalizing cannabis, decriminalizing all drugs, outlawing private prisons, implementing more robust gun controls, legalizing sex work, ending immigration detention, and so much more. In effect, our congress people have the power to help end gun violence and mass incarceration in the U.S.

Art by MOVE Texas Artist Alumna Gaby Tijerina

Vote for local, state, AND congressional candidates this year!

Every election is a chance to send a message over where Texans stand on issues and the type of political representation they are looking for. People must not ignore the local and state candidates down the ballot. Yet, depending on how people vote for Texas congressional candidates specifically, it can set the tone of both Texas and U.S. politics over the next election cycle. Indeed, it is no trivial matter. There will be many positions up for election this year, and we must not take any race for granted – so be sure to get out there and vote!

Alán de León (he/him) is the MOVE Texas Policy and Advocacy Manager.