Texas State Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) started his ninth legislative session in January. He gave his priorities, his view on representing a rural area, and his biggest success in an exclusive interview with sanangelo.news.
Above all, Representative Darby seeks to fix systemic problems with Texas policy and budget. Darby said, "Sometimes we as elected officials tend to address the very squeaky wheel first which may not be the right long-term proper public policy for the state. And so we will put a little money at it and kick the can down the road. Well, as you might suspect, some issues have been plaguing the state for a long time, in my opinion, and we need to address them."
At the top of the list for Rep. Darby is public education, from funding teachers and school districts to increasing safety for students and teachers in the wake of the Uvalde shooting that occurred 170 miles from San Angelo.
Darby said that education is "the highest priority that I have moving forward in the session."
In a break with Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Patrick, the Representative made it clear that he was against any form of "school choice" that would hurt rural public school funding. When asked if he had a reaction to a TEA Deputy Commissioner saying in a leaked audio that public school funding could drop if a school voucher plan passes this session, Darby said, "I have a visceral reaction to that. I am a strongly committed public education advocate. There are some that would like to destroy or certainly diminish public education in Texas, and they're doing so under the banner of a phrase that has appeal to it: 'school choice.' Who doesn't want school choice for their kids? But the reality is we have school choice, and I support school choice, but I support parents being able to determine where they want their kids to be educated."
Darby mentioned that parents could send their child to Cornerstone Christian or Angelo Catholic, but he does not support taking public dollars and "diverting them to schools that don't have accountability or open enrollment." Darby went on to say that some want to take the money and let parents use the money to subsidize their previously made choice and use wanting their property tax back to send their child to private or parochial schools even though local property taxes pay a small amount of the cost to educate a kid.
"What they're wanting is an amount of somewhere between seven and nine thousand (dollars) is basically a grant put in a savings account for parents who've made that choice," Darby said. He continued, "and the reality is it provides just basically a substitute of a subsidy for parents who can afford to do that. And so this just lessens that obligation, which I recognize. But the reality is that that subsidy represents a small fraction of what it actually costs the tuition for that school. And so inner city kids and kiddos from rural Texas cannot afford to pay the differential between what the state would pay and what the cost of tuition is. And they can't afford to get there. There's no transportation. So it's a false choice."
Representing a rural district
One of the challenges that Representative Darby has is representing a rural district in a growing state. Darby balances it by focusing on the different resource needs in rural Texas. Darby said he does that by "(trying) to focus on the fact that our food, our fiber, our fuel all originate in rural Texas. What we do in rural Texas provides resources to folks who choose to live in urban Texas. They choose to live there, but they wouldn't have any water. They wouldn't have any electricity. They wouldn't have anything to eat or anything to wear or energy to provide their transportation. Yeah. But for the efforts of rural Texas, there are 17 state representatives to represent two-thirds of the landmass of Texas that is west of I-35. 17 of us. There are 25 that represent Harris County."
Darby does not hesitate to make rural issues that affect HD 72 known to the rest of the body that lives in larger cities.
Representative Darby was first elected in 2006 after a grueling runoff against then-incumbent Scott Campbell. His first vote was for fellow West Texan Tom Craddick to become speaker in January 2007.
His biggest success, however, came from that first session. It was doing something that had not been done previously: moving Angelo State from the Texas State System to the Texas Tech System. "Bob Duncan (the then state senator from Lubbock) and I wrote a check that (Rick) Perry had to cash. Never had one school to move from one system to another. They told me it couldn't be done. Texas Tech has honored its commitment to letting Angelo State keep its name and keep the Carr Scholarships."
When answering a question on any advice he would give to anyone interested in public service, Darby said, "I would highly recommend they think about adding service of governmental service in some aspect that this their lives, whether they be active locally in local politics, whether they be active at state or national politics, or whether it's simply working for a board or a commission, or whether it's working for a soup line or a nonprofit providing services. It's what's been said, and I agree with it, that the service to others is the rent we pay here in life. So give to others. You will find much more enrichment than simply tending to your own needs. It will come back manyfold for your efforts. It will be part of what I consider to be your obligation as a citizen of this state.