"I don't care about politics. . ."

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"What is called "apathy" is, I believe, a feeling of helplessness on the part of the ordinary citizen, a feeling of impotence in the face of enormous power. It's not that people are apathetic; they do care about what is going on, but don't know what to do about it, so they do nothing, and appear to be indifferent."  --Howard Zinn

In my years in the trenches of political volunteering, I've spent a great deal of time going door to door, and making phone calls to strangers, on behalf of several candidates that sought to do some positive works in the world.  Before November of last year, one of the most common responses I'd hear from people - and frankly, one of the most frustrating! - was:

"I don't care about politics."

Granted, in the past year, I don't hear that response nearly as often as I used to in prior years!  But I wonder: is it because the average person does now care about politics, since the consequences of political apathy are now so clear, or is it that the average person sees so many around them suddenly caring about politics that apathy seems no longer on trend?  

I believe it's the former.  I've seen many signs since I started out on this path that point to a level of engagement this area has never seen.  It's my conviction that more people care about the process of democracy in this country today than did fourteen months ago.  But for those that still - secretly or publicly - feel that they don't care about politics, let me assure you of one thing:

Politics cares very much about YOU.

Those in power care very much if you aren't paying attention - in fact they prefer it that way.  They care very much if you only care about one, emotionally-charged subject that has no impact on your everyday lives - it makes you very easy to distract.  And they know, and they especially care, if you're not voting at all.  Here's why: if you're not voting, your opinion has no weight in their calculations.  They're watching you very closely, and breathing a sigh of relief when you don't show up.

In 2016 in District 92, 61,497 voters showed up to make their voices heard - a number that broke all previous records for our area.  In the previous three presidential-year elections, there were 60,110 (2012), 61,098 (2008) and 57,571 (2004).  In midterm years, like 2018, our district's average votes cast for the past three years have averaged around 34,000.  There are currently an estimated 120,000 citizens of voting age living in the district.  This means that in an average midterm election year, the candidate is chosen by less than a third of the people that could choose.  The other two thirds of you, politics cares about you.  And they very much want you to continue as you've been!

Maybe you don't care about politics, but you do care about your children's education, your safety on our streets, your ability to get a job (or keep one), or clean water and air.  All of these things are directly impacted by your state legislature.  Presidential elections make a big splash and a lot of noise in the media, but their impact on your everyday lives is markedly less than the impact of midterm elections. 

Maybe you feel like your vote is too small to make a difference.  Did you know: in a district in Western Dallas County last year, a House race was decided by 64 out of 47,000 votes! 

Or maybe you feel that it's too big for you to take on.  I can understand that - but that's only true of JUST YOU.  It's not true of all of us together.  All of us together can change the world.

So let's surprise them this year.  Let's show them how much this electorate cares. 

 

. . .and a Happy New Year!

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Friends, as we see the dawning of a new year, our politics must also begin anew.  For the last two years we have seen the worst in our political system. The demeaning and divisive comments by many of the candidates in the 2016 election took center stage over the issues we must face together as a nation. When one group would bring up an issue such as race, the response was to act as if there was nothing wrong and deride the person bringing up the issue as a whiner or accuse them of "Identity Politics!", a term invented to make the group or person highlighting a problem seem small or worse, radical and out of the mainstream.  When a person or group would bring up income inequality, opponents would cry "Class Warfare!", or worse, that the group of people hurt by inequality were shiftless and lazy.  When one group would point out that the healthcare system needs attention and support, others would attack a program designed to help people as "a disaster" that must be ended - but offer no credible alternative.

We are better than this. The issues facing us in 2018 are challenging. Many seem intractable insofar that they have been with us for decades with little focus paid to them by our elected officials.  We must rethink our approach. Instead of demagoguery, we must have debate. Instead of deferment we must have decision. We must come together regardless of political ideology and tackle the great challenges with unity and purpose. Our cause should be a common cause; no child should go hungry, be homeless, be uneducated, or be unsafe.  Our efforts in the legislature should focus on those least able to help themselves and bring the full force of our ideas, our passions and our intelligence toward achieving the hopes of every parent in this state: Making our children's lives better.

Hope for a better life fuels innovation, it fuels compassion, it fuels positive action for our families and our neighbors.  Let us declare a covenant to each other that we will not be distracted or deterred. Let us put away petty grievances that cause division when there should be common effort. Let us begin today and establish a cycle of progress that becomes so momentous, that when we finally see those hopes realized, we will have established a legacy that our children will be proud of.

I wish you all great success in the coming year. Let's get to work.

Merry Christmas!

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Friends, this time of the year is a special one. Most of us will have an opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends, remember those no longer with us, reflect on the opportunities and challenges we faced in the last year, and plan for the new ones we will see in the coming year.

Many of us also celebrate the birth of a young child who as an adult would change the world with a message of hope, charity and forgiveness to all. This time of year, perhaps more than any other, reminds us that it is love and hope that powers our efforts toward feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting those in distress, and making the world a better place for our children. Ours is a great community, we have so much generosity and compassion as a people.

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Chrystal respects my annual tradition of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve after the kids are in bed and Santa's errands are complete, but that doesn't mean she won't give me a gentle hard time towards the end of the movie, when I get a little misty-eyed - every year! - as all of George Bailey's friends show up to remind him how rich he truly is.  That's what Christmas means to me: a time to appreciate the true value of our friends, our families, and our community; all the people that surround us that make this life so wonderful.

Let's work together this holiday season and in the coming new year to help all of our children, regardless of economic circumstances, realize their dreams. Chrystal and I, along with our children, wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Patchworks of Local Regulations

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In 2014, the City of Denton had a problem: natural gas pad sites were springing up all over town.  There were over 300 gas wells within city limits alone.   By that time, the connection between fracking and seismic activity had been scientifically well-established, so Denton’s citizens were concerned.  They decided to act: they participated in democracy at a neighborhood level.  They gathered enough petition signatures to put a ban on fracking within city limits on the ballot.  Despite aggressive tactics from industry groups – they outspent the ban supporters by 10 to 1 in trying to persuade voters not to adopt the ban - the measure passed by a wide margin:  59% to 41% in November of that year.  It was a classic case of grassroots effort beating corporate money in a democratic contest.

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There was a victory party, but the victory was short-lived.  The next day, the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed a petition for injunctive relief, and the following May, the Texas Legislature passed HB 40, the compellingly-named “Relating to the exclusive jurisdiction of this state to regulate oil and gas operations in this state and the express preemption of local regulation of those operations.” 

Upon signing, Governor Greg Abbott said the intent of the bill was to prevent “a patchwork of local regulations” from preventing oil and gas production. 

I’m a businessman.  “A patchwork of local regulations” is one of those environmental factors that a business has to learn to deal with, or perish.  Any business that can’t manage its way around a patchwork of local regulations has no right to be in business.  I suspect that oil and gas companies have sufficient internal resources to manage patchworks, and if they don’t, they can afford to hire a patchwork analyst.

When it comes to a community’s people determining for themselves how to manage their natural resources versus corporations using outsized power to put the kibosh on democracy – folks, I may be a businessman, but I’m always going to side with democracy.

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The war on local control has continued since: the 85th legislative session saw multiple state-led attacks on local control on several fronts, from trees to bathrooms to ride-sharing applications, but most particularly on a community’s ability to raise property taxes if needed – a need that’s ironically been made more acute in the past few years as the state reduces its contributions to public education, but that’s another blog topic! – and the legislative approach from Abbott and the Legislature has been directive, not cooperative.  I believe there’s a better way: the relationship between the state and the communities that it serves should be an ongoing negotiation.  I further believe that in issues of natural resources, the community’s voice should carry the most weight.  Those closest to a resource know best how it should be used.  Their voices should be heard.  

My Duty to Walter

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Our companion animals enrich our lives daily, as they have for thousands of years.  Who knows where humanity would have ended up if not for our companionship with animals?  

I have a great relationship with my dog, Walter.  He makes it easy, since he's probably one of the most chill dogs in the universe!  I'll never forget the day he became a member of our family: we went to an adoption event in the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops in Grapevine, and I was walking around while the rest of the Riddell crew was looking at cats.  Walter was in an enclosure and had been all morning, according to the staffers there, just lying back and watching people walk by, but as soon as he saw me, he stood up and cried to be let out.  It's like he'd seen an old friend.  I went over and met him, and he was the friendliest guy, laid back but excited to meet me.  They put him on a leash and I took him over to meet my wife and kids; he snuggled up against them immediately.  All of us just knew right away that we belonged together - Walter included.  The rest of the family is convinced he's a Tibetan Terrier, but I think he's an adorable mutt.  Whatever the breed, he's terrific.  

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I'm not sure who gets more out of the relationship, Walter or us.  But we as a family understand that the relationship isn't all fun - there are responsibilities as well.  We know that Walter considers us his pack, and since dogs are unhappy outside their pack, we make an effort to make sure he isn't without one of his pack being around him for too long.  When all four of us are home, his joy is obvious

Animals have no voice of their own, and can't speak for themselves.  When we enter into a relationship with them, it's our responsibility to treat them humanely.  

Last session, State Rep. Sarah Davis (R) of West University introduced HB1156, a bill intended to "prohibit a person from tethering a dog outside with a chain or with a restraint that has weights or is shorter than five times the length of the dog. In addition, a dog could be restrained to a stationary object only if the dog has access to a clean and sturdy shelter, shade and water and if the area is dry."  The existing laws had no real penalties.  Davis' bill, if enacted, would have made tethering for extended periods a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.  It enjoyed bipartisan support and support from law enforcement.  But the bill was killed via parliamentary measures as part of the "Mother's Day Massacre" of non-controversial bills by the Freedom Caucus - the full story is here:

http://www.thln.org/the_tethering_story

It's an issue that needs to be addressed, and I'd like to reintroduce the bill in the next session with Rep. Davis's support and cooperation.  

Statues and Flags

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I was talking to a friend of mine last night – you might say it was more of a rant! - about the buzz around the NFL’s “will they take a knee during the Anthem or won’t they?” kerfuffle.  I said, “It seems like for months now, while really important things are happening, all people want to talk about are flags and statues.  North Korea claims we’ve declared war against them.  Congress is trying to destroy the healthcare system without a decent replacement again this week.  Puerto Rico has been devastated and has no means of rebuilding itself without assistance.  There was another shooting at a church yesterday.  But all anyone can talk about today is whether NFL players are being sufficiently respectful to our National Anthem!  What matters now is the same thing that has always mattered: who gets access?  Who gets access to natural resources, and capital, and representation in the government?  These other things don’t matter at all, they won’t make one ounce of difference in anyone’s lives, but people are having disproportionate responses to them, at every point along the political spectrum.  I don’t get it!”

My friend, who’s a fairly wise man, said calmly, “Steve, flags and statues are symbols, and symbols matter.  Symbols matter a lot.” 

I’ve been thinking about it ever since!  And of course, he’s right.

I’ve been thinking about what the symbols mean, and realizing that the way we talk about the symbols enables us to talk, as a society, about the meanings behind the symbols without speaking directly about them, and that transference enables us to address very difficult topics. 

A statue is far more than a lifeless hunk of bronze, it’s on a pedestal: it’s literally a depiction of someone you are intended to look up to.  When people speak about statues of generals in the Confederacy, they’re not discussing history or what really caused a conflict that began over a hundred and fifty years ago – even though that’s what they’re saying on the surface.  What they’re really talking about is access.  For people that think in terms of race, or assume that their genetic material has any bearing on their destinies - personally, I don’t, but I know many people in this country do – the predictions of demographic trends are frightening.  If demographic trends continue, sometime around 2045, non-Hispanic Caucasians will be a minority in the United States.  I believe we’ll be stronger as a nation when that day comes, because maybe by then we’ll have moved beyond judging others by their skin color – a person can dream!  For people that still think in terms of race, though, it’s a cause to worry about whether “people like me” will have access to the same opportunities.  It’s telling that the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville were chanting (among other things), “You will not replace us.”  To them, the removal of a lifeless hunk of bronze was a metaphor for the erasure of their own identity, because they’d based the core of their identity on the color of their skin.  The challenge for all of us is, how can we, as a society, get people to stop thinking of “people like me” in terms of skin color – how do we change that population to “fellow human beings?”  Maybe that’s why we’re having passionate conversations about statues: because we can’t yet answer that question.

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Also, think about what those statues raised during periods of racial strife mean to people whose family histories include slavery.  They are invited to look up to people that fought and died to keep their ancestors in a system that defined their ancestors as three fifths of a human.  It doesn’t matter physically to them now, but as a symbol, it says, “The people that fought to dehumanize your ancestors are worthy of emulation.”  What message does that send about their own access to dignity, or the value of their own history?  Who is given access to history, those that oppressed and lost the right to oppress, or those that survived the oppression?

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NFL players were kneeling during the Anthem to make a statement about access to justice, at first, and subsequently to make a statement about access to free speech.   For some, this is a legitimate expression for concern for a trend in our society, namely, that African Americans in the United States are three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white people.  For others, any type of protest is excessively demanding or ungrateful, and is met with outsized hostility.   Think of how popular the topic of running over protesters became – and how popular it remained, even after it happened in real life. 

When we discuss the details of the salaries of NFL players, or how established the tradition of standing for the anthem is at NFL games, or whether the action disrespects the military, or whether it’s “the right time” to protest, the question we’re dodging is: who has access to justice in America?  Those that support the knee believe there’s still unequal access to justice in this country for some, based on the color of their skin.  Those that are incensed by the knee fundamentally believe there’s no inequality of access to justice for that reason.  But because this subject is so difficult to raise and discuss rationally, we speak about the details around the knee – passionately.  How do we get past talking about the surface topic of standing for the Anthem, and instead talk about the things that matter?

When can we as a people start having honest conversations?

Repeal HB 1774

Joint Statement from North Texas House Candidates:

September 1st, 2017 – We urge Governor Abbott to convene a special session to repeal HB 1774. This new law weakens homeowner protections and homeowner remedies when an insurance company acts improperly in paying their weather-related claims. As Texans and Americans, we can all agree that the families devastated by Hurricane Harvey deserve to be paid every penny they are due from insurance companies so that they can begin rebuilding their lives.

Without repealing this disastrous law, thousands of Texas families already devastated by Hurricane Harvey may be open to further victimization by predatory insurance practices. The Texas Legislature must act now to ensure every family can rebuild their lives and communities.

The Undersigned

Michelle Beckley for HD 65 @ForHD65

Sarah Depew for HD 67  @SarahHD67

Steve Riddell for HD 92 @S_RiddellTX92

Nancy Bean for HD 93 @NancyBean4TX

Beth Llewellyn McLaughlin for HD 97 @beth4TX97

Mica Ringo for HD 98 @ringofortexas

Brandy K. Chambers for HD 112 @BrandyforTexas

What Unites Us

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I'd like to tell you about an incident I had a few months back on social media.  I noticed a friend with substantially different political views from mine, posting what I suppose must have been, in retrospect, a rhetorical question about "liberals and how they think." I replied to it, politely, respectfully and intelligently, assuming he'd asked the question because he wanted to understand a perspective that differed from his own.  One of his friends replied to my comment with ANGRY COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS that weren't quite as well-reasoned as my own, from my perspective, but I took the time and trouble to respond to them politely, maintaining my desire to be informative and get to a place of civil discourse.  My friend deleted the entire thread.  I reached out to him privately and expressed remorse that my wish to be informative had caused so much conflict.  I told him that it was important to me to retain connections with people of differing opinions, because that's increasingly necessary today, and he agreed.  The next day, he sent a note out that he was "taking a break from social media" because he hated it, and was unfriending everyone, but it was nothing personal.  It's a small world, though, so I still see his comments on the posts of mutual friends.  I suspect he may have only unfriended people that weren't like-minded with respect to politics - or maybe he just unfriended me, that's certainly possible!

From where I sit, the most dangerous trend in America is our increasing tribalism.  To the greatest degree in our country's history since the Civil War, we're separating ourselves into factions and demonizing the people on the other side.  We no longer think of ourselves as "We the People," it's becoming "us versus them."  In the conversations I've had so far in this campaign, with people of all political stripes, I hear occasional comments like, "I wouldn't vote for a Democrat if my life depended on it," or, "This is proof that all Republicans are evil."  More often, though, the people I talk to express an eager desire to return to civil discourse, to elect politicians that work cooperatively for the betterment of the community, and who listen to all the people they represent, not just the people they agree with.

The unifying potential of the technology of connection that has sprung up in the past thirty years has become little more than a lost opportunity, and it isn't the fault of the technology.  The fault lies in our humanity and its clash with that technology - the two gears of human nature and technology are grinding up against each other with sub-optimal results.  

When we first started climbing up the evolutionary ladder, human beings could not survive as "rugged individualists" - we needed our group to eat and live through winter.  Over millennia, we passed along the genetic traits of sensitivity to the opinions of others - because insensitive jerks tended to get kicked out of the cave to be eaten by saber-tooths.  In the centuries since, the people that were aware of social cues tended to get more dates than those that weren't and thus, passed on that awareness to their children.  It's so refined in us now to seek the positive approval of our peers, and the corollary, to fear the disapproval, that scientists have noticed that people receiving social criticism - being told, "No, you're wrong" – show activity in the same part of their brains as physical pain appears.  Scientists believe that’s why so many people fear public speaking: it’s an entire roomful of peers that might disapprove of us and kick us out of the cave!  We feel like we must seek and retain the approval of our group to survive - even though that survival is not as threatened as it was twenty thousand years ago.  Our brains can't tell the difference.  

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At the same time, technology is shrinking the world at an accelerating rate.  When you can sit down at any computer and immediately communicate with any person in front of a computer in Ho Chi Minh City or Helsinki or Harare, how do you define "our group?" Some people react to this inevitable world-shrinkage with hostility and alarm, and they lash out at the people getting closer to them.  We've seen evidence of this in such diverse places as Mosul and Charlottesville, in Richmond and Urumqi.  Some people want their groups to remain small and very specific.  Larger groups present a greater risk of social pain.  

The "public square" used to be a physical place, an actual public square, and it was a place you had to go to conduct personal business, hear the latest news, interact with the state and socialize with your peers - where is that place now?  All of these functions have moved - either partially or completely - into online places.  When the public square was physical, you had to interact with people you disagreed with - there was no avoiding them.  You had to be civil, and you had to listen to your neighbors, even when you disagreed with them.  

Technology changed all that.  We now have the ability to self-select our public squares.  We can watch news catered to our opinions.  Media corporations have happily responded to the demand for programming that prevents us having to feel the pain of being wrong about our beliefs.  We can remove from the square all of the people that might disagree with us, and live happily in a cocoon of comforting agreement.

But of course it doesn't make us happy.  Most often these cocoons enrage us, because they render us less able to hear the ideas of people that are different, and that acting against our instincts to build communities and cooperate - it frustrates us, because we know it's wrong.  I believe we must work past the pain and fear of hearing differing opinions, and start working together to build the world we all want, our mutual goal of a world of peace, opportunity and cooperation.  

I'm a Democrat, and proud of it, but I seek out the opinions of people that aren't.  I make it a monthly mission to check the websites of media outlets far to the right of my position.  I cherish the friendships I have with people that disagree with me, and I love a spirited but civil debate.  One of my primary motivations for being in this race is to bring back the kinds of conversations we had, as a people, in the public square.  As a people, as a nation, and as a state, we have to see ourselves as - in precisely this order - fellow humans, fellow Americans, and fellow Texans.  

Citizenship in the Community

Citizenship in the Community

My son and I just finished working on his Boy Scout merit badge for Citizenship in the Community.  I really enjoyed spending the time with him, sharing my passion for one of my favorite topics.  We had an extended conversation during the process about the difference between being “a citizen” and being “a good citizen.” 

Texas Roots

My 3-x-great grandfather Sheridan Riddell was the eleventh child of the big boss of Gilmer, West Virginia. Sheridan was born in 1829. The records don’t show when Sheridan moved to Texas, but he was there by 1859, when he married Nancy Oxford in Erath County. The records don’t show why he moved there either, but I imagine as the youngest of eleven children...