The Defender Network recently hosted the final edition of a three-part virtual event series called the State of BLACK TEXAS. Featured guests included Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in segment one, and the two most prominent Black state elected officials, State Senator Royce West from Dallas and Houston’s own State Senator Borris Miles, in the second segment.
The entire three-part State of BLACK series was made possible by Title Sponsor H-E-B, Presenting Sponsor, Chevron, and VIP sponsors Amegy Bank and Cadence Bank.
Several community partners added to the questions posed to the three lawmakers. Those community partners include NAACP Houston, Greater Houston Black Chamber, the Houston Area, Urban League, the Pan-Hellenic Council of Houston, the Houston Baptist Ministers Alliance and our Dallas partners Friendship West Baptist Church’s Pastor Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III and Sharon Beard, national president, Top Ladies of Distinction.
Moreover, a new State of BLACK partner, Houston Public Media, provided questions and will showcase segments of the program on Thursday, Feb. 11, and share it on their public radio station and network throughout the state.
Here are excerpts from the State of BLACK TEXAS:
LT. GOVERNOR DAN PATRICK
BLACK BUSINESSES IN WAKE OF THE PANDEMIC
The way we help Black businesses is we need to get people back to work… But there’s a balancing act. Because what you just said, if we try to make sure that that no one gets COVID and no one dies from it, and of course that’s impossible, then, even those states that have tried to do that, that have closed all businesses, that has not worked. So, in Texas, we have done everything we can to keep as many businesses open. And to businesses today, it’s not the state or your city or counties anymore asking you to shut down. It’s getting customers out. So that’s why we have to test people. That’s why we have to get the vaccinations out. And we’ve got to get customers to these places… So, we can’t help those Black businesses in our inner city until we get people going back to work.
POLICE REFORM & SOCIAL JUSTICE
I grew up in inner city Baltimore… So, I grew up in the inner city through the 50s and 60s when we had segregated cities and the Martin Luther King movement, those tough 1960s… I remember an America that we shouldn’t have had, of segregation. So, in terms of social justice today, I believe in my heart, we’ve come so far from those days. But I also believe in my heart, we have a long way to go. And it never ends. And in terms of systemic racism… I don’t believe that the majority of Black, white and Brown Americans are racist. Do we have pockets of racism in this country from all sides? Yes. But the way we lead in Texas to address this issue is by example, with us working together… We will bring our senators together and we will address those issues in legislation. I can’t tell you what it looks like today. But I can tell you this, no one wants any one from law enforcement who shouldn’t be on the job because of anything that they have done, that would indicate something that could happen. Like we’ve seen elsewhere… And I can tell you this, that in talking with HPD and police all over the state, they don’t want any bad officers on the force either.
Redistricting, we have a committee, a bi-partisan committee. Joan Hoffman is the chair. Senator Hinajosa from the valley is the vice chair. It has 17 members, Republicans, Democrats from all over the state. Their task is to draw a map that’s legal and fair. There’s always someone who has a disagreement. Then you try to draw 31 districts for every Senator, not everyone agrees. But we’ll get there. Normally we would do it, you know, sooner than later, but we’re waiting for the data from the federal government… But, we’ll draw a legal and fair map and everyone will have input… Look, I know Royce and Borris are coming on next. Both are leaders, in the Senate. They represent the Black community very well. And we have a personal relationship. We trust each other. We work together and we work through problems and I’m appreciative of how they work across the aisle with us. Most people say, “Well, you know, it’s partisanship.” Well, it may be in Washington DC, but in the Texas Senate last year, we passed 1,818 bills. Only 18 out of the 1,818 passed with only Republican votes. So, on 99.99% of all legislation, we passed, joint resolutions, Senate resolutions bills, local bills, statewide… So, we worked together well, we’re going to continue to do that for Black Texas, white Texas, Brown Texas, and all Texas. Because at the end of the day, we are one Texas. And that’s the way it should be.
STATE SENATORS ROYCE WEST & BORRIS MILES
EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF COVID VACCINES
MILES: The state made an agreement to put out their own process of how they were going to distribute the vaccines… principles that they gave that we didn’t ask for, but they put in writing… They want to mitigate health inequities, including obligation to explicitly address the higher burden of COVID-19 experienced by populations most effected heavily given their exposure to health inequities. These are African-American communities that they’re talking about! This is the promises that they made… [However] I keep in contact with Steven Williams from the city’s Health Department. And many times, they’ve complained to me that, “Borris, we just don’t have it.” Well, I go back and check with the state and they tell me they sent X amount of doses to the city, and we haven’t received it. They’re using it as a political ping-pong ball. But more importantly, on this issue than anything else, we have to hold the state accountable for the principles that they laid down on this distribution.
WEST: What we’ve done, we found out that Walgreens, CVS stores were getting vaccines… And I made certain that those stores, stores in our communities, were getting dosage in order to make certain to get the vaccine out. And so, we’ve got to be vigilant… stay in contact with the health department, and hold them accountable for getting it out. And we’ve got to figure out how much CARES money has come down that Department of Health has discretion on utilizing in order to realize the issues that negatively or disproportionately impact our community, which they do. We need to help them imagine or re-imagine how to use that money in our community… We’ve got to figure out once [the CARES money] gets here, what departments it’s going to, and then hold those departments accountable for spending it also for the benefit of our communities. It’s not just giving lip service to it, but the spending where it impacts our communities also.
BLACK BUSINESSES ACCESS TO STATE CONTRACTS
MILES: First of all, I want you to know that Royce and I are drafting a piece of legislation to create an independent state hub office, to act as an ombudsman for minority contracting for hub contractors. Secondly, the most important thing is education. We have to do a better job of educating our hub minority contractors on how to go after these state contracts. And then we have to educate them not only on how to go after them, but how the money flow is going to be dealing with the state. Because so many of our Black contractors have gotten contracts, but have gone out of business because they don’t realize how slow the state pays on these contracts.
WEST: It is so important that you support your local chamber and you statewide chamber. Why is it? What I noticed is, Black people tend to be the ones that get these programs set up. And we’re the last ones to be able to benefit from these programs… We have more Black people in the state of Texas than any other state. More Black people in the state of Texas, all right. We have more Black power now in the state is Texas than we’ve had in a long time. And so at the city level, and in Houston, in Dallas, in other areas, we should be making certain that we work and hold accountable those elected leaders, those city managers and others that have the MWBE programs and make certain that African Americans are getting their fair share of the dollars.
THE STATE’S EDUCATIONAL AGENDA
MILES: Texas has got to keep our school districts in, remain them to be held harmless. They’re not responsible for COVID. They’re doing the best job they can in our school districts to deal with the COVID. Okay. And we have been told that House Bill 3, won’t be reduced in any kind of way. That the same funding we had before COVID, we’re going to have during the COVID period. We need that funding so that we can make up for the digital divide, we can make up for kids falling behind through this COVID time. But more importantly, the commitment to say, “Okay, senators; okay, State Reps; okay, The state of Texas, we’re not going to go backwards on HB 3.”
WEST: In 2019, we probably had about right at 90% of Black students graduate from high school. That’s pretty good. And we’ve had probably about less than 5% that are dropouts. That’s pretty good in the state of Texas. And the fact is, is that we’re ahead of a lot of other states as it relates to Americans, but there’s still that education gap… As it relates to African American students, I want to hear from educators. I need you to call Borris about what you think specifically about what we need to do as it relates to additional support in order to help close that gap… I don’t want to keep on kicking the can down the road.
MILES: We need our people, African-Americans, to be a part of these hearings. And they need to voice their opinion. Royce and I are just two people that can, you know, but our masses, if our masses put their comments in and attendees ask questions to these virtual committee hearings, it would help us out a lot… Royce will tell you, he and I have already contracted a lawyer and signed in with a lawyer to represent us.
WEST: Borris has already told the people in Houston that he has the hearing dates on his website as well as how to register. You know, there is no excuse to not participate other than being lazy. And if you hadn’t participated, don’t come up to me talking about redistricting… Now is the time to start registering and participating… Don’t have to worry about coming down to Austin, just Zoom in and testify.