Meet The English Immigrant Aiming To Help Democrats Take Back The Texas House
Texas Democrats are severely underrepresented in the state’s House of Representatives. Currently, there are 95 Republicans and only 55 Democrats serving in the state house. Democrats made small gains in 2016, but turning the Texas House blue, or even purple, will be a difficult task in an extremely gerrymandered state.
Andrew Davis Morris is hopeful he can flip at least one Republican seat in north Texas.
Morris is running to represent Texas House District 64, which covers Denton, and other smaller towns on the northern tip of the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex. The district is currently represented by Republican lawmaker Lynn Stucky, who defeated a 22-year old University of North Texas student last year to win the seat.
Dr. Stucky, a local veterinarian, has had a quiet first term in Austin, but has voted in lockstep with far-right conservatives in the Texas House on divisive issues affecting immigrants and the transgender community.
A recent protest at his Denton office denounced his support of House Bill 46, a narrowly tailored version of the Senate’s so-called bathroom bill.
When I spoke to Morris on Friday, July 28, he had just returned from the protest at Stucky’s office that was led by Amber Briggle, who has made statewide headlines for her advocacy on behalf of transgender rights.
Morris said Stucky’s first term in office has been disappointing and called his support of the bathroom bill a betrayal of his constituents.
I’m proud to have stood w/ @mrsbriggle & the Denton community today to fight hate, bigotry, & the #txlege attack on local control. #NoHB46
Read my Friday, July 28 interview with Andrew Morris below. It is lightly edited for clarity.
MR: You just got back from a protest at Lynn Stucky’s office. How big was the protest and what were you all protesting?
Morris: We were protesting House Bill 46, the so-called bathroom bill. This was a fantastic turnout for something that got thrown together basically overnight. We had something like 30 to 40 people come out, with many more who wanted to come, but given the short notice, they weren’t able to make it. There were many members of the community coming out for local control. Coming out against [House Bill] 46. Coming out to support Amber Briggle and her son Max and any of the other transgender individuals who are going to be impacted by this. When Lynn Stucky has formed a personal relationship with Amber Briggle and shook her son Max’s hand and made her seem like he had her back, to then come around and co-author this bill, is a huge stab in the back and one of many reasons I am running for State District 64 next year.
MR: Lynn Stucky would be your opponent if you made it through a Democratic primary. He’s currently serving his first term. How do you assess his tenure so far? How do you think he’s doing?
Morris: I think his first term has been a disappointment. Especially when Denton has just gone through having its fracking ban overturned. There has been nothing out of his office about local control or returning the city powers to the cities and having municipalities control their local ordinances. There has been no push back against what Governor [Greg] Abbott and Lt. Governor [Dan] Patrick have tried to do in terms of making cities unable to decide what they are going to do with their trees or what they are going to do with their bathrooms. Just generally being underwhelming culminating in stabbing members of his constituency, like Amber, in the back by co-authoring House Bill 46.
“Better funding for teachers, more pathways for students, and less focus on what I consider nonsense bills such as where people can use the bathroom.”
MR: What would be some of your priorities if you took Stucky’s seat in the Texas House? I imagine local control would be in there?
Morris: Absolutely. So, the Texas Constitution very clearly delineates which parts of the state control which areas of government. When local cities have been able to do what their local constituents want through the democratic process — no one knows better about local issues than the locals themselves and when state level and federal level Republicans have been harping on the representatives and senators in D.C. about trying to tell the states what they can do, it just seems highly hypocritical to turn around to local cities and local municipalities and start telling them what to do. There is just no consistency or coherency in their statements.
For me personally, one of the biggest issues that I would be advocating for would be education on all levels. Starting with funding in terms of making sure that we can hire and retain the best teachers possible by offering as many opportunities for as many children as possible. Going from the sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school going into the workforce. What I see as part of the issue is everyone is pushing seniors that they must go to college, otherwise their life is going to be a failure. My personal experience tells me that is not true, that is not accurate.
My brother is in no way academically inclined. He went off straight out of high school and became a plumber’s apprentice and he then went into hospitality and became a store manager. None of which needed a four year or even a two-year degree to accomplish. Seeing that kind of pathway — he is not saddled with student loan debt. Those are the sorts of opportunities we need to be advocating more for. Especially when we have an impending skill shortage in terms of car mechanics, plumbers, electricians, brick layers. Those are the types of industries that need to be better addressed. One of the ways you can address that is by offering vocational courses and other pathways other than you must go to a four-year college in order to be successful. I can go on and on, as far as education is concerned, but that would be my biggest issue. Better funding for teachers, more pathways for students, and less focus on what I consider nonsense bills such as where people can use the bathroom.
“Where I draw the line is taking money out of the public school system to invest in private and charter schools.”
MR: You mentioned education as a top priority. How do you think the Republican dominated legislature has done in terms of advocating for education?
Morris: I think it has done a very poor job of advocating for education. There has been discussion about school vouchers and school choice. Right off the bat, I do think that the adults closest to their kids should know what’s best for their kids. So that means if they want to go to a charter school or a private school or a public education school, that’s fully within their right to decide to do that and I fully support that option. Where I draw the line is taking money out of the public school system to invest in private and charter schools. When public education is already drastically underfunded and continues to be underfunded that is not going to improve outcomes for anyone. There are numerous surveys out that show that those who go through a public education system are often more well rounded and have better outcomes. That is something that should be encouraged. It doesn’t mean that charter schools or private schools are necessarily bad. It just means that they have different funding sources that shouldn’t rely on the taxpayer.
MR: What’s your thoughts on the sanctuary cities bill and what would you do in the Texas House to fight that kind of legislation?
Morris: When it comes to the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. This is pulling responsibilities that have already been designated to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) into our local law enforcement officers. When our local law enforcement officers are already stretched really thin and already have so many other responsibilities within their community that they are trying to address, SB 4 only hurts their ability to do their jobs. It’s going to hurt their ability to prosecute crimes. It’s going to hurt their ability to investigate crimes because no matter what your immigration status, it seems to me most immigrants get profiled.
I myself am an immigrant, but because of the color of my skin, I am highly unlikely to be stopped or questioned. It is going to be seen more as a curiosity when I start speaking to someone than if I had a different skin color where automatically the suspicion is there that I must be here illegally. That means that members of the community will not be as forthcoming with information they may have in case they decide that they may be under investigation. It means that they don’t reach out to the police if they need to, in circumstances of domestic violence, for instance, one of the parties may not go to the police about their partner because they feel as though they won’t address the crime being committed against them, but for the more victim-less crime of being here illegally.
We already have ICE officials protecting our border and protecting our communities and we need to start tackling how to better address those who are already here. That means going through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), going through the Dream Act, and it is trying bringing them out of the shadows and into the broader community. One of my contacts recently put it in terms of pie. You have a certain size pie and if you pull out the 10 to 12 suspected illegal immigrants here in the U.S. you have a smaller pie, which means smaller and fewer economic opportunities for everyone around. So, if we bring those illegal immigrants out of the shadows we make a bigger pie which means more economic opportunity for everyone. When you have news reports talking about our fields are going unharvested and crops are withering and getting wasted out in the field because we don’t have the harvesters to bring in those crops. It’s just another example of how a short sighted policy has a long-term impact on increasing our produce prices, reducing the amount of food we have available, and just hurts our communities by injecting suspicion and fear among everyone.
So, how would I fight that? I would oppose it. I would think about trying to figure out the best ways of tackling illegal immigration, which starts with better tracking those who come in on visas and overstay those visas. The majority of illegal immigrants are actually people coming in legally and overstaying their visas. As an immigrant myself it is something very easy for someone like myself to do and slip in under the radar. It’s very easy not to get caught. That’s what we need to address and that comes with better tracking of people we accept into the country through legal means and when the border is already heavily invested in it is time to draw those resources into other more effective areas.
MR: The protest you were a part of is one of many that has been happening in Texas this year. Do you think Texas Democrats are going to be able to maintain this grassroots energy into the 2018 midterms?
Morris: I think so. When we have so many candidates pushing forward and putting themselves out there and starting their races 18 to 24 months ahead of the election. I think that by continuing to be in the public eye, by meeting with community members, by going to events and protests, and making sure that we stay politically engaged I certainly think that come next November there will be a large wave election from Democrats rising up and saying enough is enough, the status quo is no longer good enough, we need to make changes. And here’s candidates who have a positive vision for what Texas and the U.S. can be and should be.
Morris will officially announce his candidacy at Backyard on Bell in Denton, TX, on Saturday, August 12. More information on that event can be found here.