Spring 2024 - 59560 - PA 388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy


This course will focus on the 2024 election cycle — both the primaries (the first half of the semester) and the general election (the second half). Each class will be built around the central ideas of the moment in politics as well as the handful of issues atop of the campaign season's agenda. As we’ve done in the past, we’ll crowdsource the syllabus during the first class period of the spring based on the topics and themes that interest you the most. Come prepared to help me help you have the best, most interesting, and most stimulating term possible.

In Texas, it’s been thirty years since there were consistently competitive races at the state and federal level. At the legislature, redistricting has historically made the outcome of our November elections boring and predictable; for all practical purposes, the cycle concludes after March, when we know with certainty the winners of all but a few contests on the ballot. You can argue whether, at the moment, Texas is a red state or merely a non-voting state, and you can make wishful predictions about whether the Democrats finally can get their acts together enough to snatch back some amount of power, but the undeniable reality is that, at least for now, Republicans rule the roost. At the same time, world domination hasn’t brought the GOP peace; Rs battling Rs in a test of ideologically purity has become as much of a commonplace and popcorn-popping-worthy feature of our politics in Austin as it is in Washington. The battle over Ken Paxton’s impeachment and the ongoing cage match between the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker are evidence of that.

A few data points to keep in mind.


Our population is growing like crazy. There will be an estimated 47 million Texans in 2050, nearly 60% more than there are today, but there’s an open question as to whether we’ll invest in the social and physical infrastructure necessary to accommodate our new friends and neighbors. I’m talking roads, bridges, water, education, health care, broadband. We are low tax, low service — a feature of life here, not a bug. Given that, will we have a sufficient foundation to undergird all this growth, or will we be at risk of collapsing under our own weight? We do not legislate and we do not appropriate like a state that’s about to have 47 million residents.


We’re rapidly urbanizing. Five of the thirteen largest cities in the country are in Texas; no other state has that many. And yet we cling to the idea that we’e a rural state, a ranching  state, an ag state. We’re not. The Texas myth is just that: a myth. It has been for some time. The rural counties are hemorrhaging population while the cities are teeming. Nearly 90 percent of our population lives east of I-35. We do not legislate and we do not appropriate like an urban state.


Demographic inevitability is upon us. Texas is 41 percent Hispanic and 40 percent white today. By 2040 it’s predicted to be 55 percent Hispanic and 32 percent Anglo. This precipitous demographic change has profound implications for our politics and policy landscape. Education, health care, and other major areas of the state budget — issues that affect everyone — have to be reprogrammed in light of the population that’s not coming but is already here. Yes: the train some believe is preparing to leave the station actually left 18 years ago, when white Texans ceased to be the majority and Texas became, for the first time and forever, a minority-majority state. Today the public school population of Texas is already more than 50 percent Hispanic. Today, nearly 60 percent of public school students are on free or reduced lunch. Today, the white enrollment in the Dallas Independent School District is about 5 percent. We do not legislate and we do not appropriate like a state in which these kind of demographics are destiny.

That’s the horizontal overlay — the frame for thinking about the election season that will be the basis for our time together.

Again, as we’ve done in the past, we’ll have big-name guests visit our class each week, in person and virtually, to discuss what's really going on: in races and in parties, in the halls of government, from one end of the state to the other, and along the treacherous path from Texas to D.C. This class is basically an excuse to put you in the intimate company of some of the most powerful and celebrated figures in politics and policy. For your own sake, make the most of it.

The class will be heavy on discussion, with engagement rewarded and timidity dinged. When the time comes to ask questions of our guests, have some. You will, of course, be expected to keep up with the news — I’ll be quizzing you each week on what happened in the preceding seven days. It’s never too soon to start paying attention to the world around you. At the end of the semester, there will be a thoughtful bit of content creation that will be a major component of your final grade.

We will have fun. We always do. This stuff is serious, but it doesn’t have to be boring. With your enthusiastic participation, it won’t be.