When Ina Minjarez was elected in 2015 to finish the remaining term of Senator Menendez, she only got one month in the legislative session to learn. The next year, after winning again, she was named Rookie of the Year by Texas Monthly. She has passed a lot of important legislation regarding bullying, foster care, and is a huge asset to San Antonio. Also, she loves Real Housewives and Chinese food.
Justin Hill: Hello in Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.
All right, welcome to episode 22 of the Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is representative Ina Minjarez. Representative Minjarez represents District 124 which is West along 90, up from 90, 1604 area. She was elected to a, partially, over term really in 2015, joined the legislature with only a month or so left, went back to her next full session, and was named rookie of the year by Texas Monthly. Even though I accidentally called her freshman of the year, it’s been a huge accomplishment. You’ve been given some incredible appointments, I guess, you call them recess appointments as well regarding the judiciary. First, thank you for being here.
Ina Minjarez: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be on. I’m going to remember this as lucky 22. [chuckles]
Justin: There you go. Repeating numbers are supposed to be a lucky thing. I didn’t know this.
Ina: It’s a good number.
Justin: I do a top 10 with everybody. I just want to get some color, some background information. When and why did you end up in San Antonio?
Ina: Law school, St. Mary’s University School of Law and I wanted to practice in Texas. Texas has one of the hardest bar exams and I just wanted to take it one time and be done with it. [chuckles]
Justin: That’s a good plan. Born and raised in El Paso?
Ina: Born and raised in El Paso.
Justin: College, El Paso?
Ina: Excuse me?
Justin: College wa in El Paso or undergrad at St. Mary’s?
Ina: No, college was at Notre Dame South Bend in Indiana.
Justin: Okay. South Bend is not that nice of a city.
Ina: When I was there it was just a different type of place to be. I tell people when I got to Notre Dame I didn’t even really understand where it was located. I had no idea. I was just going to Notre Dame. I remember getting on the plane and looking down and seeing [chuckles] a lot of farm country, I’m thinking, “What the heck did I just get myself into?” We were pretty insulated. We really didn’t go out into the city. They had the students really on campus. It’s [crosstalk]
Justin: We talked off air a little bit of Poncho Nevárez. You went to law school together. Poncho and I worked a case and we ended up in South Bend a lot and the campus is beautiful but the surrounding town is not what you expect, which, for me, was the same as when I went to Yale for some depositions, beautiful campus, not a really nice town so I was surprised about it.
Ina: No, it’s not. It’s been a while since I’ve been back. It was interesting to see Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He was the mayor. I’m curious. I would love to go back to see what he did with South Bend since I [crosstalk]
Justin: Yes, I would too. You have dogs. What kind of dogs and what are their names?
Ina: Those are my life. I’ve got three. My golden retriever, I named her Fino after my favorite wine. [chuckles] I got Pepe who’s a GSP, and then I got Lily who is my rescue. She’s a mix of Schnauzer and I think she’s part coyote.
Justin: Growing up we had a cat we were sure it was part bobcat so I get it.
Justin: Favorite hidden gems in San Antonio. The last guest was King Anchovy and he was certain there could not be anything he didn’t know about. I brought up somebody’s favorite Filipino restaurant so we’ve had some good additions. Any favorite hidden gems, things that you think even as locals don’t know about?
Ina: My favorite restaurant in the world Sichuan House by Ingram Park Mall. That is a gem in itself, my favorite place to eat.
Justin: I haven’t seen their books but I’m partly sure that my house is partly responsible for them surviving COVID by the way. They delivered up to 20 miles and I was just right in the delivery zone.
Ina: [unintelligible 00:04:14] I just ordered from them on Friday. Christina was the owner. She’s incredible. It’s just a great restaurant. They take care of their workers and employees.
Justin: What’s your favorite dish there?
Ina: The dry pot and the green beans.
Justin: The cold noodles were shocking to me. I’ve never had cold noodles. They were fantastic. Our delivery guy we can only call him by his name spicy noodle. We weren’t allowed to use his real name because who knows what was going on with unemployment at the time. Which show best depicts politics as you have learned them to be? My guest, I would think, Veep has to be it but that’s only a dream.
Ina: Veep. You know what? It’s so funny. I’m trying to think of–
Believe it or not, I don’t watch political shows. I am so wrapped up in Yellowstone and because it has its own politics of being ranchers and owning this incredible land in Montana so, yes, I guess you could say there’s politics involved in that. You got the good guys, you got the bad guys, you got the ones that are about greed, you got the ones that want to do the right thing, and it’s a family-owned ranch. That’s what I’m all in queue right now is Yellowstone.
Justin: Is Yellowstone a Western feel or is it not.
Ina: I think a little bit. Kevin Costner, he’s the main character and you’ve got that aspect of a family of ranchers, how they got the land, and you’re going to figure out, we still don’t know, what the secret is in terms of how he got the land. He didn’t get it the right way. Then you’ve got native Americans that are in the show too, and one, in particular, that believes he stole that land from their tribe. I guess it’s a modern-day Western feel.
Justin: You’re the second person to tell me I have to watch it and I click it on Netflix and it just looks like it’s going to be a slow start.
Ina: It’s so good though. I think every female character in that show is like a strong woman too and they got a leadership role. [chuckles]
Justin: I’ll have to check it out because you’re the second person this week that’s told me this. Are you a reader, and if so, what are you reading?
Ina: Am I reader? Besides legislation and boring policy papers, I am a reader. There’s different things that I read. I read a lot of motivational books. I’m trying to think one in particular. The author escapes my mind and I’m always– Give me a moment to look up my Twitter because I have them all on my alerts. He’s faith-based and he just gives a different perspective on life, but at the same time he’s not telling people how to live. He’s not judgmental on people because sometimes you think coming from a faith-based perspective that people tend to be judgmental and that you need to live your life according to a certain way. His name is Bob Goff and I’m reading his newest book called Dream Big and it easy to follow.
Justin: I’ve never heard of him.
Justin: He’s wonderful and I follow his books and he’s just plain, like I said, faith-based to the point but non-judgmental
Justin: Max Lucado seems to walk that line too in a really special way that so many people don’t.
Ina: I agree. I used to go to his church and just loved him. He wasn’t judgmental and just would preach on a level that was present day. I appreciated that about Max. I still like to read his stuff. I got a lot of his books here at the house.
Justin: I read that you’re really into Bravo.
Ina: I love Bravo.
Justin: One of our previous guests Tim Maloney was one of the producers of Southern Charm New Orleans. Did you know that?
Ina: I knew that and I watched it. I watched some of that. [laughs]
Justin: It’s pretty terrible though.
Ina: I will admit. I am not afraid to admit. That’s my escape. I watch all of those bad reality shows just to have my escape from real life.
Justin: Which was your favorite?
Ina: I like the Real Housewives franchises. I love Southern Charm but I like the one that [inaudible 00:08:29] other. What is it?
Justin: Whitney and Tim did Southern Charm New Orleans together and Whitney comes out of here a lot. I used to love VH1 reality shows, I’ll admit it, but I wasn’t into any of Tim’s stuff. Whitney and I were at Soluna having margaritas and I made fun of him. Nobody watches that show. I can tell you probably 10 different people came up, this was season one of Southern Charm, 10 different people come up and said, “Are you Whitney?”
Ina: If you talk to Whitney, you tell him I think his mom is fabulous, and I think she makes the show.
Justin: Oh, no, people will ask Tim if they can pay him so that their wives can go meet her. I didn’t realize she was such a breakout hit.
Ina: His mom, I think she is a diamond and I think she really makes the show. I love her home. I love her style. I love her wit. [laughs]
Justin: What does she call her breakfast? Martini? She’s got like a name for– [laughs]
Ina: She has a name for– Hey, I respect a woman that has a breakfast Martini.
Justin: We just found out Fiesta is getting canceled but I’ve asked everybody what’s your favorite Fiesta event.
Ina: The hit Fiesta event. Look I love to eat. I would say going to Oyster Bay, that we go on the off day where it’s not like one of the first days that it’s on early to avoid a lot of the crowds but I love all of it. I love to eat. I love to drink. It’s just a fun time.
Justin: I agree. I’m pretty bummed about it but it’ll be back. Any surprising friends at the Capitol for you? I always found the Scalia and RBG friendship to be a strange pairing, as tickling your best friend. Do you have a friendship like that at the Capitol?
Ina: He’s a friend. It’s funny you mentioned him. Yes, believe it or not Frick and Frack. What’s so funny, and he’s probably going to not appreciate me saying this, but I know Jonathan on a private level so different than what he puts out there, the persona he puts out on Twitter. We don’t always agree, but believe it or not, we’re friends. I could talk to him about a lot of things and vice versa. Underneath it, there is a person there that has feelings. Yes, he’s a friend. I think another one that I developed a friendship with former Speaker Craddick. I got to know him because I went on his committee, this session, and really just have so much respect and adore the man. I would bring them bags of Snickers because he loves chocolate [chuckles] and we got to know each other, and another good friend there.
Justin: He’s just going to be a fount of knowledge about the Capitol and the legislature and the process and the players.
Ina: He is. He’s got a lot of knowledge. His wife is beautiful, Nadine. I got to go to Odessa to go tour some oil wells down there a couple months before the pandemic happened and got to attend an oil and gas state of the state there in Odessa and got to sit with him and his wife. They love where they’re from. They’re very oil and gas, right? She would tell stories about what it was like to be the speaker’s wife at the time at the Capitol and what went on there. They got a lot of stories, but very dear people.
Justin: A very tumultuous run as speaker if I recall it, and now, he’s got the best place to office in the Capitol, and you rarely hear his name.
Ina: It’s funny because I tell people, they’re like, “You don’t know what he was like when he was speaker.” I know what I hear in terms of how he was very heavy-handed but, I guess, I know a different Craddick now. [chuckles]
Justin: Well, good. It’s good to be able to look from a fresh perspective, too, not carry resentment or any of that with you.
Justin: Okay. What brought you into politics?
Ina: I must have been crazy. At the time that I decided I was going through a midlife crisis. I will mention his name because he’s my dear friend, I worked for Javier Espinosa, who was one of your guests.
Justin: That’s right.
Ina: I worked for his firm for a little bit. I think I’d already litigated like maybe 15 years and I was feeling just unfulfilled, not in terms of working for him, but I just felt like I wanted to do something different and decided to take some time off. I thought, “Maybe I’ll go back to school, get another degree.” I just felt like I was having this midlife crisis professionally. At the time, my state rep went on to win a special election. That was a Jose Menendez, who went on to become a Senator and that opened up his seat.
I can’t explain it. I’m trying not to sound hokey, but something kept pulling at me, pulling at my heart. I started looking into what the heck a state representative does. Look, I had to go on Google. I remind myself and figure out what exactly do they do. It was all policy-related, creating law, and reading policy. I figured, man, if I’ve litigated all these years in the courtrooms for businesses, for people, for kids, why can’t I do that at the Capitol and actually change things and make a difference. I took a leap of faith and decided to run for the seat and luckily I won.
Justin: Then your 15 years of litigating, what did you do other than work for Javier?
Ina: I was a prosecutor for Baird County. I did, I prosecuted domestic violence cases. Unfortunately, I prosecuted cases where children were victims of sexual assault so that was really tough. I did a lot of felony offenses, drug offenses, murders, and then left to do the defense side. Then while I was in private practice, I started representing kiddos in child protective services and in the system as an ad litem, and then, also, represented parents who were facing termination of their parental rights. Then during that time, that’s when I met Javier and then went to go work for him for a little bit doing labor law.
Justin: You’ve done prosecution, criminal defense, and then plaintiffs civil work as well.
Justin: When you decided to run for Senator Menendez’s seat, were you tied in any of the political groups or are you tied into your neighborhood? What was your sort of grassroots involvement if there was any?
Ina: Really the only political exposure I had was I had also run for a County Court bench, County Court No. 5. I ran twice. At the time, I think the first time I ran was when Tim Johnson was on the seat and I nearly took him out. I lost by seven-tenths of a percent that time and then he retired. [chuckles] I was going to run again for that seat and then it was when Obama was president. It was midterm election time when that red wave came and just knocked out every single Democrat that was running for office or held office.
Justin: Except for David Rodriguez, somehow.
Ina: Right, he survived that. I thought I was done with politics because that was heartbreaking. It looked like it was going to happen and then just not having any control. You were just at the bottom of the ballot and that was the political atmosphere at the time. I knew who, in terms of who were the players with the local democrat electeds but I really decided to walk away from it because it left a bad taste to my mouth.
When I decided to run, I really had not lived in the district very long. I had lived for some time in the Southside, [unintelligible 00:16:34]. That’s where I’d lived. I came down and lived here. I was very new, very green. I think what it was, winning this election, was really pounding pavement and knocking on doors. I really think I was running– In the race was a former city councilwoman, a firefighter who was active in the union, and then, a gentleman who had run as a Republican all his life, but decided to run as a Democrat for the seat. I think it was because I was new and “untainted” that went in my favor. I think people like that about me, that I was very new and did not have a political background.
Justin: Is your district considered far Westside? Is that what you would call it?
Ina: Far Westside Northwest because we’re part– I have SeaWorld and the Food Bank. I’ve got part of Edgewood, part of Highway 90, a little bit of Port San Antonio, but I come over to Westover Hills, the newer part. We’ve got a lot of growth at here. I would say Northwest.
Justin: How much of that district is the old Westside neighborhoods? Correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve got to think there’s really a hierarchy over there that if you’re running and you haven’t checked the boxes as you come up through the system, that there would be some blowback because you’re a lot of these older communities in neighborhoods. There’s a real political machine hierarchy for people that are going to run for office. Did you run into that out there?
Ina: I didn’t run into that. it was unique. Maybe in the Edgewood, part of that Edgewood area, they didn’t know me very well, but it was funny because the Edgewood area that has Port San Antonio called Thompson neighborhood, I won that precinct versus most of Venus. I didn’t win that precinct. There was a split but I’m telling you when I came in, it was a special election. It just seemed to be a very unique time that I really feel that a lot of the constituents in the district really wanted someone new that had not been tainted by politics so to speak.
Justin: How long had Senator Menendez held onto that seat?
Ina: I want to say maybe 20 years. He’d been here a long time.
Justin: Was it really that long?
Ina: He was a councilman before, and then as a state, he’d been a state rep for a long time. It was about–
Justin: He just looks so young.
Ina: Yes, a long time.
Justin: We’re going to get into your work as a legislator in a second, but legislators have other jobs, are you still a practicing attorney?
Ina: I take very few cases because my whole life is devoted to what I do and I travel extensively for my committees. I represent a couple of small businesses with their contracts, and then every now and then if a firm wants to bring me in on a case and I am able to, I will jump in and help out, especially out of town firms that don’t know how to maneuver through our presiding courts in Baird County.
Justin: I’ve been hit with a legislative continuance in South Texas many times when, all of a sudden, a state rep ends up on my case.
For those who don’t know, if you’re a legislator and you’re on a case, you get an automatic sort of extension throughout the legislative session. Some defense firms, probably, plain as firms, too, will sometimes pick up a rep and get their 180 days.
Ina: Yes. and have some help there. [chuckles]
Justin: When you decided to run, you said you googled to see what the job is. I’m sure you went in with your priorities, but what were the priorities at the time you decided to run that you really wanted to focus on and that means what did you think San Antonio needed?
Ina: The priorities that I ran on were transportation infrastructure because in this area we were going through tremendous growth. I felt that people were tired of being in congestion. I was one of them. I sat in my car longer than I was working, traveling place to place. Jobs, workforce development, we didn’t have a lot of job opportunities, especially ones that offered a living payable wage. Then the other was definitely public education in terms of funding and helping bring up our public schools up to par. Those were the three that I really hammered on.
Then I, also, included, I’m a daughter of a veteran, come from a family of army vets, and so recognized that we have a number of military, active duty, and veterans that live in my district, and so definitely talked about the need to continue pushing veterans issues and active duty military issues as well.
Justin: You came in, you won your special election, you were able to go to the 2015 legislative session with only a month left. I think, as part of TTLA, we went by your office then, and if I recall, you were really just getting your bearings. Was it drinking water out of a firehose, basically?
Ina: It was. There was no time. I had to get a staff very quickly and going in there, it’s the last month of legislative session where everybody is trying to push their legislation. There’s deadlines, there’s timelines, you’re on the floor until all hours of the morning working. I just observed a lot and learned very quickly. It was a situation where you either learn or you’re just going to get lost.
Justin: Did you know any of the legislators when you went there or was it who you were officing next to that you got some guidance from or were able to ask questions from?
Ina: Well, definitely Poncho, Poncho was one, very, very supportive, and then, at the time, representative, Marisa Marquez out of El Paso. She was a Notre Dame grad. I was, I think, three years ahead of her in college and so I took care of her, and then she paid back the favor and took me under her wing. I will tell you when I got there, the members who had been there the longest, some Republican, very helpful, that were just open arms and everyone was just very, very welcoming. If you have a question, they’re there to answer it, and they’re going to be honest with you. I just felt like I was welcomed. I was like the new kid on the block that came in like a breath of fresh air during a very contentious session.
Justin: Well, Poncho always told me, he said, “If you really look at it, 99% of all the legislation passes in a bipartisan effort, and then you have the hard-charging political hot potatoes that everybody pays attention to in the news.”
Ina: The social issues.
Justin: Yes. What did you think you learned in that first session that you brought over to the second? Did you feel like you even had time to breathe and digest anything?
Ina: I didn’t. What I learned, I learned right away just to watch and learn. One of the things that I took to heart that was explained to me, “Don’t get on the microphone just to talk on the floor. If you just want to get up there and grandstand, that’s when people lose respect for you and you make enemies that way.” I learned the processes very well, asking questions, getting up there, being active on debate.
Then, you know, when I came home, I had already drawn an opponent. It was like, “Come home after a month, put on Town Hall, start campaigning again, figure out, get through the primary.” I didn’t have a chance to breathe. I think it was like that for two cycles for me and just now as much as I don’t have an opponent this time, the issues, the work never stops. It’s constantly working, working, working, but I love it. I knew what I was signing up for.
Justin: Did you have any 2015 recess appointments in that between 2015 and 2017 committee assignments?
Ina: From what I recall, I think, yes, I was put on an environmental committee by Speaker Straus. It was an interim committee. It was an environmental committee. We only met one time, which was just odd to me. Essentially, I remember that hearing, it was the attorney general coming to testify about how he was essentially attacking every measure the Obama administration tried to do on behalf of protecting our environment.
We had one hearing and that was the end of it. There was really no meat to that committee. Then the committee’s I was already on, that Jose Menendez was on, that I just replaced to serve on those committees, those continued meeting during the interim, those of state affairs and transportation.
Justin: Okay, you just stepped into his shoes in that interim or the remainder of his term?
Justin: Okay. 2017 was the first full session you worked. You were named Rookie of the Year by Texas Monthly. Texas Monthly gives out great awards, Furniture Best-Worst, Cockroach Award, recently, for someone. You were named Rookie of the Year, and sometimes that’s multiple people, but for your session, you were the only one named Rookie of the Year. They pointed out how you guided well-placed amendments through the process. I think my understanding is an amendment is a very small victory. They can add up over time. What was your legislative philosophy in terms of trying to get movement and trying to get some small victories in light of the fact you’re really a first-term elected, and you’re in the party that’s out of power?
Ina: Sometimes what you do is you may have a piece of legislation and it’s really hard to pass a bill, you might find that you can’t get any traction to get your bill moving so you can change and transform your bill into an amendment that you could put on legislation on the floor. One of the things, it’s going to be the stars were aligning since I have such an interest in foster care. Speaker Strauss had asked if I would get on a work committee that he put together bipartisan legislators to start working on reforming the foster care system.
At that time, leadership determined that foster care reform was going to be a priority because a Federal judge had ruled that the Texas foster care system is a hot mess. It truly is. One of the biggest amendments that I recall that I got on the budget, I stripped money away from the attorney general’s office and fully funded foster care for the biennium, and I got support from Rs and Ds. That was crazy, that that amendment went through very easily. [laughs] That was a big win.
I’m trying to remember what I did, too. In terms of transportation, there had been an issue for some time where people, say, you use your toll tag, you use toll roads, and maybe you sold your vehicle, and for some reason, title didn’t fully transfer and so that person that now had your car was not paying its tolls. They were going to collections. There seem to be a large number of that, of people who were getting bills that they owed all of these tolls.
These people, these consumers were trying to go to TxTag and say, “Hey, you got the wrong person.” TxTag could’ve cared less. It was like, “Pay us this money or you’re going to go to collections,” where you’re not going to be able to renew your driver’s license. I had put in an amendment that essentially did away with TxTag being able to do some tolls. [chuckles] I strip that money. That was another bipartisan win. The Republicans were loving it.
I remember that they were saying, “Ina, how do you do this? How do you get the whole House to go with your amendments?” I think I just happened to find some issues that we could all find common ground on, but they were meaningful. I was able to sneak them into legislation and really make an impact. TxTag wasn’t happy with me but it helped a lot of consumers who are getting screwed.
Justin: How do you figure out how to do that? Did your staff teach you a lot of this? Did you have a chief of staff who walked in, gray hair, and been there a while type deal?
Ina: It was having a good staff. In order to be successful as a legislator, you have to have good staff because they carry you. We would meet as a team, and then they could identify certain areas and say, “Let’s try to put this amendment here. Then I would take it and run with it.” It’s having a staff that all work really well together that could recognize how to make that legislation move. It’s just strategy. It’s like Game of Thrones, figure out which family you got to get close to, figure out which family you’ve got to screw over, [laughs] and get your win.
Justin: It sounds like any opportunity you had to take money away from government is how you got the Rs to join you. That’s a good lesson learned. 2017 ended Rookie of the Year, 2019 you came in, you really took the mantle on a San Antonio issue and you got David’s Law passed. That was a big win for you It’s a big win for San Antonio in the family that was affected. Tell us what David’s Law is? Did you craft that based on any other state’s versions of this bill? Was it sort of whole cloth? How did that process happen?
Ina: That was a tough process. David’s Law, there were no laws in the books to deal with how do we handle children that are being cyberbullied at school. This was new territory. I don’t believe that at the time there was anything in the books and we didn’t have anything to really follow because, usually, we can look at other states and say, “Hey, we can take that bill and let’s try to fix it in terms of how can we tailor it to Texas.”
What was fortunate, the Molak family whose son committed suicide as a result of being cyberbullied in Alamo Heights, they were constituents of Speaker Straus. He was on board to make sure that something got done. It was talking, it’s getting everybody, all the stakeholders who had relationships with the governor and the lieutenant governor to get buy-in from them. Then it just happened, that I don’t know what it was, maybe these types of cases had never been brought to light but, all of a sudden, media was talking about children who were taking their lives, not just children, teenagers who are taking their lives because they were being relentlessly cyberbullied throughout the State of Texas, some outside of Texas.
It wasn’t easy. Once you file a bill, in terms of the House side, I have to sell it to 149 other legislators and these are state reps that come from different parts of Texas, rural parts of Texas that may not understand that this is a problem. Parts of Texas where there’s no internet, maybe they don’t feel that this is a real problem that should be legislated. First amendment issues and it was a lot of discussions, a lot of coming together. It was a heavy, heavy lift, but I was very strategic in who I want it to be my joint authors on the bill, Republicans and Democrats that I knew could help me do the lifting, and with Speaker Straus behind the bill, we were just able to move it. It took a village and then getting it to the Senate side for them to finish off that bill.
Justin: Who were the biggest stakeholders against it? Was it civil liberties First Amendment people?
Ina: It was the Freedom Caucus, and I have a story about that. It was the Freedom Caucus, the super, super right that didn’t like it, the Appleseed because they felt that it would criminalize children. We made some changes because I did not want this to be a pipeline from school to prison for these kids or school to jail. What happened– It was the Freedom Caucus who very much First Amendment, and they were going to try to kill the bill, but what ended up happening, when I talk about the importance of having relationships across the aisle, the day that it was coming on the floor– I can’t remember there was- two bills before mine that upset the Freedom Caucus, Jonathan Stickland, the members that make up–
Justin: Briscoe Cain.
Ina: Briscoe Cain. Something happened where they all went outside to have a press conference ’cause they were really upset about something and so their attention was diverted from my bill. Representative Lyle Larson, my colleague, kept them busy outside of the House floor, and we were able to take my bill out of order and hurry it up and bring it up out of order and we passed it without them being present.
They couldn’t do a point of order, we were able to get it done, and when they walked in, they realized that they had missed the boat, so to speak. The funny thing is, I think they have recorded no votes later on the third reading, which is- the bill was already on its way out and they were getting calls from families angry, angry that they voted no. They went and switch their votes to yes as in support of the bill and then wanted me to make a statement defending them, which I wasn’t going to do.
Justin: How bizarre.
Justin: Was there a lot of that in the legislature, just a lot of grandstanding without really any care for the substance, and not just the Freedom Caucus, but among all members, just to appease sort of a fringe group?
Ina: Yes, I think there is. I think it depends on the topic, sometimes a lot of them are afraid of being primaried trying an opponent. It’s funny on certain issues they want their time on the mic, because look, you’re always recorded when you’re on the mic on the House floor when you’re making arguments, you can take that footage now and you can make a commercial out of it.
Justin: Tell me the difference between the back mic and the front mic?
Ina: Okay, front mic, which is the front of the House is where you’re presenting your bill. The back mic is where legislators get to ask you questions about your bill, debate you ’cause they hate your bill. That is just parliamentary procedure of when you use the front mic, and then you got to run and get to the back mic. [chuckles]
Justin: Front mic can be multiple people, though. Does the sponsor of the bill have to invite them up to speak?
Ina: Yes, you can, and usually, you will have sometimes you need a little help and you can pass it off to maybe your joint author who may have a little bit more knowledge in one area of the bill to help you out on the bill in explaining it.
Justin: Okay, last session you were on the Appropriations Committee, which is one of the most powerful committees in the house. You were, also, on the Redistricting Committee. Do we run a Redistricting Committee every session because Redistricting is technically this term, right?
Ina: It’s technically this term. It’s when the census is done. It’s every 10 years or so.
Justin: 10 years, yes.
Ina: Yes, so right now–
Justin: Unless time delay shows up and decides for a mid 10 year redistricting.
Ina: Exactly. The issue we’re having right now is we were supposed to have our census completed. I believe the results are due in March, but now with the pandemic, we don’t know if Congress is going to do some extension that’s going to throw us off from being able to do the redistricting. It may question off later.
Justin: What work did you all do last session on redistricting if we didn’t have census numbers?
Ina: All we did was we heard possible legislation from members that– We had hearings on bills like Representative, my dear friend, Victoria Neave, and I believe, Donna Howard had bills calling for an independent commission to draw the lines where legislators should not be drawing lines. There should be an independent, impartial commission, and how it is that we can come up- what are the rules to eligibility of the commission so that they can draw the lines?
I think another bill was whether inmates– You may have someone that lives in San Antonio gets in trouble and then gets moved to do TDC time at a prison, they’re not counted in San Antonio. They’re counted for population purposes there at that prison where it’s located. There are different issues on how you count somebody. That’s some of the stuff we were listening to.
Justin: You’ll have a whole new set of committees this upcoming session?
Ina: We will. Right now we’re going have a new speaker. Our current speaker got in a little bit of trouble so he’s not coming back. If the Democrats win the majority and if we take over the house, we may have a new Democratic speaker so that means we may have all new committees starting January.
Justin: You’re actually working on something that’s pretty near and dear to me right now and it’s a select committee on judicial elections.
Ina: Judicial selection, yes.
Justin: Yes, or election selection but it’s a group of legislators, it’s a group of lawyers, and it’s been appointed by Abbott I think and you all are supposed to give recommendations to the governor’s office on whether you think, “Let’s keep the current system of electing judges in place,” or “Let’s move to some sort of election selection process.” Is that a fair–
Ina: Essentially, it’s like proposing- or, “Do our elections work as they currently are? Should judges maybe elected in a nonpartisan basis? Should we just not have elections and have a governor appoint? What about retention elections?” Yes, we’re delving into all these possibilities. I think it’s going to be up to the voters to decide how they want to do this because I don’t believe that- I think that people should be electing their judges, it’s what is the method.
There’s a lot of good discussions going on. I don’t know if there’s really going to be a change in how we do things- because of the pandemic we’ve got economy to worry about, continuing to funding our schools, we got to talk about redistricting for another issue. There’s so much need right now, I don’t know if this is going to come into play, but I don’t want to say that it’s not.
Justin: Are you all still meeting and taking testimony?
Ina: We are. We’re meeting by Zoom. We just had a couple of hearings already by Zoom, and then we’ve got a public hearing by Zoom that’s going to happen in Corpus. We’re going to have public hearings. There’s going to be one in San Antonio, but they haven’t set the date on that one yet. We’re going to see how everything runs in Corpus via Zoom.
Justin: This didn’t seem to be an issue until Republicans had a lot of losses at the judicial level. You wonder how much it’s a principle fight and how much it’s a, “Hey, we might be losing benches,” kind of fight. Hopefully, that’s all getting fleshed out within the committee.
Ina: Yes. Well, there had been prior bills, so other sessions there has been discussion, but never really truly acted on until this session.
Justin: Yes. You don’t have to say why. It just happens.
Ina: There was a commission form, but they never met.
Justin: Of course, there was. Now I’m just going to ask you some nerdy politics things because I’m thinking it’s interesting. Are you getting calls for people that are already starting to advocate their run for, and no names, but their speaker race run?
Ina: No. I think no. I hear rumors, but you have to be careful because if you’re intending to run for speaker you’ve got to file some forms with ethics. You’ve got to file your intent because if you’re out there trying to get some support and you’re reported, you can get into a lot of trouble with ethics. I think, also, people are playing, keeping their cards close to their chest because they want to see what’s going to happen with the November election as well.
Justin: When do you think people will start announcing, after the election–
Ina: Right after November election.
Justin: Are you involved on any of the political side of things? Any “Go to DC and you’ve got the DCCC,” and a lot of electeds are involved in the electing more Democrats? Are you involved on the politics side or really just your function as a policymaker?
Ina: When called upon, I will definitely help. Right now because of the pandemic, I’m just focused on the district and my policy and that’s just the policy nerd in me, too. I just feel like right now I need to be focused on my constituents, focused on policy. I have to be on a lot of calls regularly. That’s where my focus is but, of course, as now that things are picking up, if needed on the politics side, I’m going to do everything that I need to do to help because, yes, we need a new president.
Justin: Well, I’ve already gotten hit enough by Michael Watts who was also on the show about Joe Biden donations. I think everybody’s paying attention. Are the legislators having any involvement in Abbott’s COVID response policy crafting? I see on Twitter everybody seems like they’re completely cut out and he’s not listening to anybody. Is your experience that they’re taking the position that electeds don’t have a big role in this response? Are they asking you all for input? Is there any involvement?
Ina: No. Initially, when things were happening, as things started escalating, end of February, March, that’s when certain things started happening, we would have regular calls, but we weren’t allowed, it really is true, we weren’t truly allowed to ask questions. Then as they evolved, as the months were coming, he would want questions ahead of time, but we didn’t know what was going to be mentioned on the call. He would want the questions at a certain time frame, and then, the deadline would pass, and then, he would have some press conference revealing what it was he wanted to do. Then we’d have the call but we could not ask questions pertaining to what he just released.
It’s been a lot of frustration. We’re not keyed in. We’re not keyed in to what decisions he’s making. It’s frustrating. Now, I will tell you, like I’ve been surprised to find out within the last month, he had a call with the Republican legislators. He didn’t include the democratic caucus in that. They’re very behind closed doors.
Justin: That don’t even make any sense.
Ina: No, it’s frustrating.
Justin: It’s a virus.
Ina: It is.
Justin: I want to ask you a few things. I remember whenever the shift happened in Texas I’ve always been a politics nerd about it all. It seemed like for many sessions it was red meat Christmas for Republicans in Texas. That seems to have shifted away in which the red meat really just caustic legislation that is meant to appease the fringe Republican voter, not the mainstream, but the fringe voter who always votes. That seems to have lost a lot of its volume at the Capitol and now it seems like that all the legislators are starting to take up actual substantive real things the state needs.
Are you seeing that? Are you seeing that maybe it’s just a slowdown and these red-meat issues are going to get traction again? Are you seeing just a shift politically that means we’re going to start legislating from the center more?
Ina: I think the last election cycle the voters spoke loud and clear and scared the heck out of my Republican colleagues, and because of that, let me tell you, teachers were vocal– It’s astounding because every- the session since I’ve started, we always had to fight against vouchers, even the discussion on vouchers. Well, now my Republican colleagues who were so pro voucher were all about public education, were all about taking care of our teachers. Then even the tone of the governor when he would have his State of the State Address, and I would hate seating through that because he was very- I mean the vitriol. He would talk about anti-immigrant, just attack, attack, attack. Then this last time he was all about Kumbaya, wanting to work with everybody, public education.
The voters really made an impact. I see right now that, those fringe issues may come back around again, but it’s going to be the voters who are going to have to put that in check.
Justin: Yes, to me, I’m a big proponent public schools. Both of my parents are school teachers and, to me, it’s always seemed like the rural Republicans have been the only saving grace on this voucher issue, which brings me to another issue that is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around among progressives, and that’s the rise of charter schools. In San Antonio, for some reason, same for New Orleans, seems to be this hotbed of charter schools, which the public school administrators here do not like, but our city seems to really like. Where do you see the trajectory of charters going based on– Austin, I think they just granted charters for three more schools in San Antonio and Austin. It seems like we’re moving more into that instead of further away. Are you seeing that trajectory slowing down or that’s the way things are going?
Ina: I think that’s the way things are going. I don’t see things slowing down. For my district alone, I’ve got IDEA, I’ve got Harmony. I think Great Hearts just came in. We’ve got a lot coming in, but my concern was we had one charter school Carpe Diem that came in and failed. You’ve got some charter schools that are performing, they are having some success, the students are doing well but, again, I’m seeing an explosion coming in of other charter schools and some that I’ve never heard of.
I get emails sometimes of an intent for a charter school to come in San Antonio. I think the delegation gets them every now and then, some that I don’t know, I don’t have a relationship with but, to me, it’s there, they’re imploding in San Antonio. Unfortunately, you got to fight over funding, accountability standards are different between public and charter schools. That’s not going to end, but for me at the end of the day, I got to think about these kids and making sure that they got the resources that they need because I want them to be successful. I want them to be thriving citizens and educated when they take over leadership of the state.
I think we’ve got to have some hard discussions and real discussions. We’ve got a lot of schools coming in and I just don’t know which worries me based on the fact that, like I said, I’ve had a school fail in my district and that wasn’t good.
Justin: The statistics and the science and the data just flesh out that they’re not objectively better really in any way, but they are well-funded, their marketing is great, their administrators pay great, they take good talent from public schools, my real question is how have they convinced progressives to jump on this bandwagon who have really always been the lions defending public education? What has happened that has made that come together to where the progressives and liberals are big supporters of charters? I just don’t understand it.
Ina: I don’t know. I think what it is, is they’re able to organize, they’re able to put resources to nonprofit lobby type groups that can go and spread their wings so to say and talk to parents, talk to electeds. That’s their job. That’s their job to bring them on their wagon. They have those resources to go do that versus you really don’t have a public school that has the ability to go neck to neck with that.
Justin: No, and they have CEOs that were getting paid $800,000 or $700,000 a year. There are some of these things that should drive people crazy, and it just seems to keep happening here, which is– I have one, two blocks from here and I didn’t even know it existed. What are your planned priorities moving into the 2020/2021 session?
Ina: I’m going to continue my work with foster care. That’s a big passion for me. Even though we did some work to improve the system, there’s still a lot more work to be done in that area, especially in terms of maybe some investigations of facilities that have these foster care kids that are not properly caring for them. Foster care youth aging out of the system, not getting all the resources they need so that they can be successful when they move on to college and into the workforce. That’s another area.
Continuing my work in transportation. I love that area. I’m trying to figure out possible funding solutions, continuing to work on the budget. I want to make sure that our public schools continue to be funded. There’s just going to be a lot of work in that area, and in terms of foster care I’ll always will continue my work there.
Justin: What is the committee that handles foster care?
Ina: Human Services.
Justin: You would hope to be part of that at the end of it, but the speaker decides all that, right?
Ina: Yes, the speaker will decide. He will ask you. He’ll give you a form and then you fill out what are your choices? What are your dream committees? Then you visit with him and sometimes he tries to give you what you may want and then- but he’s got to, also, base it on seniority. There’s been some reps that have been there a long time that want a coveted committee. There are choices that he has to make, or she, maybe there’ll be a she next session. Technically, you get to ask for what you want, but you may not get what you want.
Justin: That brings me into my next point, and I was going to talk to you about this. Anyway, you talked about Yellowstone having real strong women, you talked about the potential for a female speaker, do you have any women role models that you look to? To some extent, you’re a trailblazer. The Capitol is very male. It’s very white and male. It’s getting different, but it has, predominantly, always been white males. Any of the famous Texas women, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards that you think, “Yes, what a legend”?
Ina: Those two are Queens at my book. My husband was lucky enough, he had Barbara Jordan as his professor at the LBJ school and he talks about what he learned from her. He still remembers lessons that he learned from her that he takes with him to this day. Ann Richards, oh, she’s a queen. I think for me right now in the legislature, I always look up to Senfronia Thompson. She’s been the longest-serving woman, African-American in the house. I’ve learned a lot from her.
Also, I would say, Donna Howard is another one. She’s part of the Travis County delegation and been there quite some time as well. I think those two, very talented. Then, I would say Sarah Davis, Republican out of the Houston area, pro-choice, pro LGBTQ, and she’s Republican. Those three, I think, could definitely be the next speaker.
Justin: Sarah Davis might be the only true middle of the road, purple elected left. It seems like every year she gets a Republican challenger. She gets a democratic challenger. She’s in a pretty democratic district and she hangs on every year.
Ina: She does. She’s tough. She’s tough and I admire her that she sticks by her principles and she doesn’t let anyone intimidate her strong voice.
Justin: On Twitter too. To me, she’s not– She’s pro tort reform, so I’ve never been a huge fan, but on those other issues, it’s great to have somebody that’s got the guts to step outside of your electeds. Another person who’s pretty moderate as well is Representative Larson here in San Antonio. I wanted to ask you, do cities- Texas has always had a strange congeniality in DC in which until recent years Texans voted for Texas, do you see that in the Capitol where the cities will coalesce around the city issues regardless of politics or is that division among political lines made people forget where they come from?
Ina: Oh, it depends. Yes, there was- there are political lines that are drawn in terms of local control. That’s always going to be a fight. I think it’s interesting you mentioned that because, the Capitol leadership always wants to strip local control, but now that we’re in a pandemic, it seems that they want to give local control because they want to wipe their hands off of making any decisions and mandates to protect the public.
Justin: Now, when Republicans were out of power, that was one of their top three priorities, was local control. Then when they come into power– [laughs]
Ina: They want to strip it. Again, why? Because a lot of our urban cores are all led by democratic mayors.
Justin: Does the San Antonio delegation get along pretty well for the most part?
Ina: We do. Knock on wood, we get along very well. There’s times that we’re not going to agree, but for the most part, we all work together and I appreciate that. Not all delegations are like that.
Justin: I always like to end this to know a little bit more about your involvement in the community. Obviously, you’re an elected rep, but are there any nonprofits or charities or mentoring groups that you find yourself more involved with than others, and that you want to maybe mention?
Ina: The Food Bank is near and dear to my heart. They need a lot of help right now. They’ve been a gym in terms of providing food to a lot of our families in need during this pandemic. Meals on Wheels is another one. They’re a wonderful organization. I think those two, really, are the ones that are near and dear to my heart, but also the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio. They do incredible work for our youth. Those three on the top of my list.
Justin: Eric Cooper was on the show and I joked he’s got that Mister Rogers quality. There’s something–
Ina: He does. [chuckles]
Justin: I don’t know how to describe it, like you want to hug him and give him all your money. He really believes in what he does and he is a special human being.
Ina: He’s a good person and he truly cares about what he does.
Justin: [chuckles] I think I wanted to cry two or three times while hearing him tell the story about how passionate he is and why he loves what he does.
Ina, you have an election coming up, but you’re uncontested.
Justin: Do you maintain a website that you use for district outreach or anything like that?
Ina: Sure. The campaign is vote4ina.org and then you can look me up. You can just do a general state representative Ina Minjarez and it’ll connect you over to the state website with all of our information. You can even see the bills that I’ve passed and worked on on that site as well.
Justin: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Congrats again on Rookie of the Year, and really congrats for just being an effective legislator in a time when that seems very hard for people to do even levelheaded people because of the politics, but you’ve somehow figured out how to straddle that line. I know everybody I know that knows you is very proud of you and glad that you’re in our camp and glad that you’re working in Austin.
Ina: Well, thank you so much for having me. It was good to see you.
Justin: After next session, maybe come back on and we’ll do rehash the session.
Ina: I’m all for it.
Justin: Well, maybe we can do it over Margaritas that time because the Zoom stuff.
Ina: Then I can really get into the [unintelligible 00:57:40] what happened.
Justin: I’d love to hear it.
All right, Ina. Thank you so much.
Ina: Thank you and take care.
Justin: Take care.
Ina: Okay, bye.
Justin: That’s going to do it for this episode of the Alamo Hour. Again, thank you, Ina Minjarez for joining us. Our wishlist continues. We’ve added a new name of Joe Straus. We think Joe would be great to get on the show at this point to talk about what’s going on in Austin, how that affects local control, and how cities are struggling to have a voice in the response to this pandemic. Charles Butt, we’d love to get you on, and always and forever Coach Bob.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next episode.
Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Alamo Hour. You are all what make this city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast and check us out on facebook at facebook.com/alamohour or our website alamohour.com.
Until next time, Viva San Antonio.
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