Spring 2017 - 61415 - PA388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Politics & Issues of the Texas Legislature

This course will focus on the legislative session that begins in mid January, at almost the moment we first gather, and ends in late May, not long after we wrap ourselves. Our focus will be the issues in play, the stakes we all have in the outcomes of the fights, the delightful role of partisan politics, and, of course, the players in the lineup and on the sidelines: legislators and lobbyists, activists and agitators, journalists and just folks. We'll build each weekly class around the agenda as it evolves and the news of the week, day and moment.

This is the 85th such gathering of our state lawmakers, who convene in Austin every two years for 140 days. Some would prefer they meet two days every 140 years. Regardless, that’s not a lot of time to transact the business of the 10th largest economy in the world, and it’s even less than it appears — the first 60 days, by tradition, are largely ceremonial and setting-of-the-table, with no votes cast or laws passed. Don’t believe for a second, however, that those remaining 80 days are the whole story. Already we’re seeing, in the interim, as always, the broad outlines of what’s to come. We know for sure we’ll tangle over school finance, school choice and standardized testing; higher ed affordability and outcomes; toll roads and high-speed rail; sanctuary cities and border security funding; the remaking of foster care and the need for health reform; the impact of energy prices and the prospect of tax cuts; local control (the thematic foundation of 2017); and the brewing kettle of controversy surrounding transgender bathroom policies. There will be other issues, certainly, but that’s a pretty good start. What we don’t yet know: the winner of the presidential race — yes, it matters to Texas who’s in the White House, as much as we loathe D.C. — and, as a consequence, the precise composition of the House and Senate.

I intend to have big-name, expert guests visit our class each week to discuss, from inside the tent, what's really going in — at the Capitol, in the agencies, and around town and around the state.

This class will be heavy on discussion and debate, with participation rewarded and timidity discouraged. Every student will be expected to lead a class during the semester and will be graded on both preparation and execution. And there will be a major research project due at the conclusion of our time together.