Zach welcomes Texas State Senator Royce West, D-Dallas, to the podcast in this very special episode! Senator West discusses why he thinks Texas is ready to shift blue and what makes him the right choice to accelerate that process, and he also shares what he believes needs to happen for the next generation to have any reasonable chance of inclusion in this new economy. Additionally, he stresses the massive importance of voting in 2020. Remember, the reality is that our vote is our voice, so make sure your voice is heard this year!
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and we know. We know. It’s a Saturday. Typically you’re used to hearing either a Link Up with Latesha or Amy C. Waninger and her See It to Be It series. However, we have a special guest, special treat, special situation happening this time, that’s right, where we actually have an elected official on the podcast, and his name is Royce West. He’s a state senator representing District 23 as a Democrat. He’s actually been in office since 1993. So think about 1993… I was born in 1989, right? So he’s been around for a while, and he’s been doing his thing for a while. This is not even an official endorsement of any particular candidate, but rather, as a platform that seeks to amplify underrepresented voices, that also means underrepresented voices in our political system, and state senator Royce West is actually a black man in Texas state politics, so a fairly unique perspective and experience. In addition to that, y’all, 2020 November is coming up, and it’s important that we actually are aware of the issues and some of the things that are on the ballot this year, because the things that are passed in Congress directly impact us. And I’m saying us. I’m talking to you, black or brown person. I’m talking to you, marginalized person. I’m talking to you, non-white straight Christian able-bodied male. It’s really important, I believe, that we participate and engage in this political process. I understand there are various points and opinions in terms of what it looks like to radically change or impact or create an impact. I do believe that participating in our political process and exercising our civic duties is something we should do, right? And so what you’re gonna hear when we have this conversation, I tried to ask Senator West some fairly direct questions, and my hope is that this will be the first of many elected officials we’re able to get on the platform to have real talk in a corporate world, and real talk in a world that impacts us everywhere, including at work, right? So the next thing you’re going to hear is the conversation I had with Senator West, and after that we’re gonna wrap it up. Catch y’all next time.
Zach: Senator West, it’s a pleasure and an honor to have you on the Living Corporate podcast. Just to get started, many people are saying that Texas is truly the premiere battleground state, right? So goes Texas, so goes the nation regarding tilting red or blue. There’s been an accelerated attempt to speed that up, right? So we’ve seen that with Wendy and Beto’s campaign being most notable in that regard. With that let me ask you though – do you think Texas is ready to shift blue, and if so, what makes you the right choice for that?
Royce: I do think it’s ready, and it’s dependent upon who the presidential nominee is. When you begin to kind of look at attitudes of people here in Texas, be they Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they’re more aligned, frankly, with a moderate to conservative, moderate to left-leaning Democrat. When you begin to look at gun issues, health care issues, those types of issues, which are important–women’s issues, civil rights issues, [?]. Those things are important to people, and so from my vantage point I think ideologically people are ready, and then when you begin to look at the changing demographics in Texas and the uptick in voting amongst Latinos, Latinx now. We have the numbers in order to win state-wide elections now.
Zach: So, you know, what has been the greatest advantage, and maybe one of the bigger challenges, in being a black man in Texas state politics?
Royce: Well, you know, it’s both ways. I mean, the fact is that racism is still alive and well – not to the extent it has been in the past. I think that, in terms of me as an individual, I am still susceptible to those racist hits, but I’m betting that most people will look at my track record in terms of things that I’ve done, and based on my experience they’ll know exactly what I’m gonna be doing in the future concerning representing them on issues that are important to them, like health care, women’s rights, education, criminal justice.
Zach: You know, one of the reasons that podcasts are blowing up as a communication medium that the guests typically who come on these types of platforms, they’re unfiltered, right? Like, we’re able to see who these guests are beyond the veneer of the typical talking points, and so, you know, Senator West, you’re speaking to young black and brown folks, working professionals, millennials, within Texas and beyond. So, like, with that in mind, why should they believe you?
Royce: Well, I think, again, look at my track record, and let’s just talk about the issues unique to the audience here. What you will see, over the 26 years that I’ve been a state senator, [is that] I’ve been very much in tune with issues concerning millennials and the audience that you have more specifically. I made sure that the college students–young people that go to college as an example that live in my senatorial district, which is the Dallas area, we’ve provided some internships, paid internship opportunities for them. Not just any old internship. The fact is is that we what we’ve tried to do, and somewhat successfully, is to match their major in college to the summer internship paid opportunity, and as a result of that, what you’ll see is that I’ve been able to create over 3,000 internship opportunities [for] the students that live in my district, and some outside of the district. And so they’ve been able to develop their resume, and as a result of developing that resume in many instances landed a job with the person or the business that they were doing the internship with. And not only that, Zach, we have persons who are now elected officials. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers, you name it, that will come out of that particular program. And let me just kind of reach back a little further. We don’t just start right there in college. We reach back to middle school. We have a student advisory committee comprised–and some of in the audience may identify with this–comprised of student leaders, defined as student government. That’s where I start off, in the 7th grade student government, and other student leaders on campus to make certain that I’m keeping my ear to the ground and using them as a sounding board for policies that I need to be dealing with. And I can tell you that some of those policies deal with issues concerning criminal justice, concerning economic development, concerning making certain that there’s a pipeline so they can develop, and I’ve addressed those issues and will continue to do so. “What are you talking about, Senator West?” We’ve made certain that we’ve had–and there’s a political issue. I don’t get a lot of appointments by the governor’s office because I’m a Democrat, but we’ve tried to make certain that we identify young persons that we can put on boards and commissions, because that’s how you learn leadership abilities, okay? You sharpen your skills to become leaders. We have dealt with issues concerning criminal justice. I have been a prosecutor and also a defense attorney, and I’ve had some top of the notch defense cases as well as prosecutorial cases, and so what I know is this – regardless of how old you are, you want the ability to be able to call the police officers, but you don’t want to have to second-guess you calling that officer. And so what I’ve attempted to do is to make certain that there is a third option in terms of evidence, because–you know, getting through a scrap with a police officer, it’s gonna be your word against theirs. So when you look at Texas, body cameras, dash cameras, all of those things are responsive to your audience’s questions and things that they want me to do, and so we’ve dealt with those types of things. When you begin to look at the issue concerning student debt, I’ve worked feverishly to reduce the cost of books, to make certain they use open resource materials–and I still haven’t gotten it to the point where I want to, because when you begin to look at the books and the cost of books–all of us know they cost a lot of money, and so if you use open resource materials, all of that stuff is online. And guess what? It’s more up to date than a book, and it costs less than a book. But needless to say, the book industry still has its thumb on the scales, and until we can get that thumb off the scales we won’t see a significant reduction in the cost of books, but it’s starting to move in that direction. In terms of the cost of education, what I’ve been able to do is to work in the state of Texas to get the Texas grants program, to make certain that students that graduate with at least a C average, most of them get an opportunity to get a grant–not a loan, a grant–to go to school. As long as they’re maintaining their academic standing, they’re able to continue to get that grant. And that’s just–it doesn’t pay for the whole educational experience. It pays for some. In terms of the issue concerning the cost of education and getting in and getting out of school–and I heard this from community college students. They believe in many parts, Zach, that they’re taking the courses necessary to make sure that when they go to a university it will apply towards their graduation, only to find out that when they go to the university it doesn’t apply, and they end up having to take another course in order to get the pre-requisites in order to graduate. This past legislative session, I was able to pass a bill to make certain that the higher education coordinating board in Texas begins looking at that issue and making certain that students get the right counseling and the right course sequence in order to make sure that the courses they’re taking in community college will in fact apply towards their ultimate degree once they get into a university. I guess I could go on and on, but that’s how I’ve been trying to make certain that I address the issues, the many issues, that your audience has. They may have more, and I’d be more than happy to address those too.
Zach: Let’s continue forward when we talk about this same audience. You know, it’s easy for black and brown folks, I think, to look at the current slate of candidates and see that the Democratic Party does not prioritize their voice and representation. And I think this is a pretty ongoing critique, right, as you look at millennial black and brown folks. Like, that’s been a critique for decades, and not just of young black and brown folks but of black and brown folks by and large. I think, with this in mind, why do you believe it’s important for this group to vote in 2020 if the alternative is just going to be another person that’s going to ultimately ignore them?
Royce: Well, you know, this is the thing, and this is what I want your audience to recognize. Look at who’s the most experienced person in this race and ask yourself, if you’re getting ready to go into surgery, do you want an experienced surgeon or do you want a new face, okay? If you want a new face to do your surgery, I’m not that new face. I’m the most experienced doctor to go into that operation with, and so you should want someone who does that, that has your back, that has a track record of dealing with issues that you think important. This election–and I kid you not, in terms of my lifetime and your lifetime it’s the most important election that we have–we are seeing our fundamental governmental institutions under severe attack. We have a person in office by the name of Donald Trump that has frankly demeaned the office of president. We have a president that’s constantly called a liar each and every day. You have a U.S. senator in the state of Texas, and probably many other states, that for some reason won’t say anything at all. They just cower and allow him to do what he wants to do. I mean, the latest thing about firing the head of the–I think it was the National Security Agency, whichever one it was, because that person briefed Congress concerning Russian interference. He fired him. He fired a couple of persons that testified during the impeachment because they were subpoenaed to come testify and they told the truth. They got fired as a result of it. I’ve never seen this happen before in my lifetime. I’ve never seen senators who represent, in this case, some 28 million, 29 million people here in the state of Texas, just cower and say nothing. And so what I say to those persons in the listening audience, if you want to see a monarchy, then don’t vote, because I assure you that if Trump gets four more years–listen to me now, you ain’t–you heard what I said–you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Zach: [laughs] So let’s talk a little bit more about the DNC and your work in this particular election for U.S. Senate. So if you were in a private conversation with the national DNC chairman and the DNC finance committee, what would you tell them to do more of or do differently to turn Texas blue?
Royce: Put more investment into the state of Texas. [?] think of Texas an ATM. This is ground zero for the Congressional Democratic legislative caucus. Nancy, the speaker of the house, has basically said this is ground zero for investing in turning some of these Congressional seats blue. Nancy Pelosi has done a great job. She has demonstrated steel and wants to make these seats in Texas, Congressional seats, turn blue. We need nine seats in the U.S. Senate. This is one of them, and I want to make certain that persons that are listening understand that once we win Texas, that’s gonna be, like, 38 Electoral College votes. And to the extent that we continue to have an Electoral College, that’s very meaningful. And so that’s why people are starting to look at Texas differently, if you will, as it relates to winning the state, because it will be just like California in terms of the Electoral College votes and ends up being blue. Just one example. You look at the metropolitan communities. Republicans have given up on metropolitan communities. You know why? Because we’re voting. You look at Dallas County. Dallas County in 2006 went blue, and I provided leadership in getting that done, and now we’re dark blue. The surrounding suburban communities are beginning to become blue, bluer, and I would venture to say that this election view will see Colin County, [?] Plano, Frisco, places like that will also go blue. Look at Harris County. Look at [H-Town?] Look at Ford Bend County. All of those counties are going blue, and so to the extent that you want to make sure that we change the government–if for some reason you believe that health care is a basic right, you need Democrats as a president, you need Democrats in Congress, in both branches of Congress, the Senate and also the House, and we’ll make it a priority. To the extent that you believe that we need to have a public school system in the United States, not one where we have someone that’s trying to privatize it. Then we need to elect a pro-public school president, and that president then turns around, Zach, and appoints a pro-public school secretary of education. If you believe that our environment is–that climate change is real… it’s February and it’s almost 80 degrees where I am. If you believe that’s real, then we’ve got to make certain that we elect a pro-climate change president that will put in place an EPA administrator that it also pro-climate change. So that’s how we get things done. That’s how we get things done. We’ve got to make certain that we show up and that we participate. We’ve got over a trillion dollar deficit now. We have a debt of over $23 trillion, okay? That debt will be saddled on our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and so you’ve got to make certain that you understand that. It’s not just about a party over here or a party over there. You’ve got to get in, sit down at the table, otherwise we’re gonna end up being on the table as part of the meal.
Zach: So, you know, it’s interesting, both right and left–you talked about being part of the meal and some of the critical issues, and you’ve talked a bit about education and you’ve talked about health care as well. Talk a little bit more about the economy. So both right and left mainstream punditry is describing our economy as healthy, but the actual facts show that the black community has yet to recover from the recession in 2008 and, overall, that black wealth is trending to zero dollars in the next 20 to 30 years, right?
Royce: Well, I mean, what is the major asset that we have in our portfolios to help us show wealth? Our homes. You look at home purchasing, it’s down in the African-American community. That’s part of our wealth right there. You look at–repossessions are still up, and the ability to be able to get loans–we still have redlining going on. Those things are real, and the thing that perturbs me is that we haven’t been able to get anything done yet about it. We haven’t been able to get anything done about it yet, and that’s why we’ve got to make sure that we get out and vote. You take, like, Maxine Waters. Maxine is on it, okay? And for those of you who don’t know Maxine Waters is, she heads up the Financial Services Committee. She’s on it. And so those are the types of champions that we need. And I don’t want to hear all this stuff that she’s old. She’s an expert, okay? In this area. She knows what she’s doing, and so that’s why it’s important that I connect with you, that you look at my records and determine whether or not you want someone with experience to go up and help Maxine out to get some things done. And let me say this. If you ask anyone in the state of Texas who is a champion of minority business and women-owned businesses, my name will be a part of that conversation, ’cause every year I get state agencies to work with minority business organizations to hold a fair, a purchasing fair, and I think, like, last year–I may be wrong on this–the purchasing fair, the day of the purchasing fair, we probably did about $9 million, and I’ve been doing that year after year after year. Ask [?] here in Dallas. She’ll tell you exactly what the Senate has done. And in terms of legislation, I’ve made certain that we handle legislation in Texas to have a minority business enterprise program–we call it HUBs, Historically Underutilized Businesses. That’s part of the things that I’ve done, and I invite people to the table to make certain that they get an opportunity to interact with those chairman officers that are responsible for the purchasing.
Zach: So the mainstream party is talking about all of these new innovations in our digital economy as if that’s the solution, but how is it a solution to the younger black and brown community who has yet to receive the educational and social capital to access the space, which, despite comments from some presidential candidates, there is actually an established interest. So my question is what needs to happen for this next generation to have any reasonable chance of inclusion in this new economy?
Royce: Well, you’ve got to take care of getting that education. And this is what I see. I see that African-Americans and [Latinas?] are more aggressive in terms of getting that education than the males are. Gotta make certain that that happens, and if you noticed, if you have an African-American or Latino male that’s on their game, they get the opportunity more often than not now. Now, I understand there’s still racism, but as an example, I was at a luncheon for the Dallas Foundation today. We had one African-American male [?], $1.3 million in scholarship opportunities. So they have to take advantage of that. And I understand that we still have a lot of our kids in [?] households, and may very well be in households where neither parent or the single parent didn’t go to college or didn’t graduate from high school, and so to the extent that we have those types of situations, we’ve gotta have the 100 Black Men, Omega Psi Phi, the fraternities–AKAs, Alphas, all of us pushing those types of programs. And yes, there will be some that we miss, but we’ve got to do our best in order to make certain that we provide an example and also make certain we provide opportunities.
Zach: That’s really helpful. So millennial and Generation Z black and brown voters in this cycle keep being told that we all have to make compromises in order to beat Trump, which often means accepting candidates that have troubling racial records. Should we make that trade off, and if so, why?
Royce: You know, that’s a heck of a question. [Zach laughs] I’d frankly say anybody except Trump, you know? And it kind of depends to me on exactly, you know, how contrite that person is, okay, and what they’ve done independent of those particular actions. You take, like, Bloomberg. What has he done? You’ve got to make up your mind in terms of the types of programs he has engaged in. Even though we have the stop-and-frisk program, whether or not those types of programs show, in addition to his apology, that he’s real and we won’t have to worry about those types of issues again. So you’ve got to kind of look at a person’s background. Don’t just listen to what they say, kind of look at what they’ve done since being involved in those comments or actions [?].
Zach: That’s really helpful. Often times, the quality of education today seems to have more to do with the value of your home or where you live than it does your actual work ethic. So my question to you is what are you going to do when asked to confirm the next secretary of education to ensure that that changes?
Royce: First of all, I’m gonna look at their background, okay? And yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’m from the projects of Dallas, 4968 [?] Place, and used to play basketball in a garbage can and was satisfied doing that up against the wall, and so I understand your environment. But one thing that I had, I had work ethic, and, you know, developing that early on helped me tremendously. I was a paperboy. I had 425 papers every day, not knowing that that was developing the work ethic in me, and that helped me along the way. So you’ve got to develop the work ethic, and you’ve got to make certain that you have mentors for a lot of these young men and women to make sure that they understand that just because we fall down, we get up, and, you know, if we fall down again, we get up again, and we continue to do that. And so we’ve got to make sure we have a secretary of education that understands that we are in fact our brother’s keeper and that they’re responsible for a generation and generations yet unborn that may very well–listen to me on this, Zach–may very well end up colonizing the Moon, okay? And we’ve got to make sure that our kids are prepared for that. We’ve got to make certain that those kids in the barrios, in the ghettos, in suburban communities are prepared for that, and we’ve got to make certain that it’s inclusive as opposed to exclusive.
Zach: Senator West, this has been a great interview. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us here. Before we let you go, any parting words?
Royce: No. Again, I encourage–first of all, thank you for this program, and I encourage your listening audience to make sure that you get out and vote. You know, the reality is that our vote is our voice, and I gotta get out of here.
Zach: All right, now. Talk to you later. Peace.
Royce: Take care.