Lubbock Lawmakers Discuss Policy at Tribune Hot Seat Event

Lubbock citizens and Texas Tech University students filled the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center’s McKenzie Ballroom on Wednesday to attend the Texas Tribune’s Hot Seat event, as Lubbock representatives discussed current state legislative issues ranging from state education to the future of water in the state to women’s rights and abortion issues to Texas’ dismal national standings in education. Also discussed were the voter turnout in Texas elections and the place of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, in Texas.

Participants in the panel included State Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, State Representative John Frullo of Lubbock and State Representative Dean Springer of Muenster, Texas. Lubbock Representative Charles Perry was scheduled to participate in the event, but he was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.

All three panelists are Republicans, and expressed opposition to hot topics like abortion and Obamacare. Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of the Tribune and moderator of the panel, also slipped in a question to Duncan about his future at Texas Tech.

“Would you be open to entertaining a job that might keep you on this campus more frequently?” Smith asked, referring to rumors that Duncan is a possible candidate for Chancellor of the Texas Tech system when Kent Hance, the current chancellor, retires at the end of the year.

Amid laughter from the crowd and a few claps, Duncan said Hance was a great chancellor who had done a great job, but Duncan did not answer the question. He later said the speculation about his candidacy for chancellor is just rumor.

Agnes Varnum, director of events for the Tribune, an Austin-based digital news publication that focuses on Texas politics, said the event was one in a series of statewide panels hosted by universities to allow discussion between legislators and voters.

“The Hot Seat is a series of conversations. We do about eight per year in smaller districts around the state, and we partner with universities. So, Lubbock was basically on our list of places we wanted to go,” Varnum said. “We’ve been to College Station. We’ve been to Abilene. We’ve been to Arlington, to Huntsville, Laredo. We do other events in larger markets, but these are meant to be in smaller districts where people might not have the chance to talk to legislators directly.”

These events are important to both voters and lawmakers, Varnum said, to offer a moderated panel discussion that also allows the public to ask their representatives questions.

“You have to get out in front of voters and talk about the kinds of decisions that are being made and give people a chance to ask questions,” Varnum said. “It’s not totally unique to do this kind of thing, but it is a little bit more unique to have an outside organization as opposed to the legislator themselves calling a town hall.”

Duncan, who has participated in similar events prior to the Tribune’s Lubbock affair, said the event allowed voters to see what issues lawmakers face in Austin, Texas, during a legislative session.

“The questions that Evan Smith asks are very sophisticated questions that I think bring the audience into some of the tension we experience in Austin in making some of these tough decisions,” Duncan said.

Duncan also expressed satisfaction at the event’s turnout and participation, and he said the panel went well for all involved.

“I thought all the participants had equal opportunity to express and answer tough questions,” Duncan said. “So, I thought it was a big success.”

Chris Cook, director of marketing and communication for Tech, said the Tribune reached out to Tech to organize the event, and Tech was eager to host the event.

“They do a series of these events across the state, and they contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in hosting one for them. It was pretty easy to do. We want to have them out here. We encourage it. We like to have the conversation with our politicians here on campus, and I think it was a nice event,” Cook said, “but they do these throughout the state, and we thought it would be a good idea to open our doors and encourage the discussion.”

Varnum said the events are usually successful because Texans want to know what their representatives are doing for them and to discuss lawmaking with their local politicians.

“I think there is a hunger for people to talk to their legislators and hear what’s going on in the legislature itself.”

Aurora Farthing, who participated in the question-and-answer session with Duncan, Frullo and Springer, said she wanted to engage with the politicians to ensure fairness for all.

“I just hope that the State of Texas doesn’t forget the little guy,” Farthing said, “which is kind of what’s been happening lately.”

About Abbie Arroyos and Alicia Keene
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