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Against All Odds, TX State Rep Getting Things Done as a Freshman Legislator

"Democrats were outnumbered, but not out-gunned during the 83rd Regular session," Houston-area State Rep. Gene Wu (HD-137) told Burnt Orange Report about his first Legislative sessions. Wu won a hotly contested 2012 race for his seat and when arrived at the Legislature in January — he did anything but lay low.

Wu, who announced his re-election campaign in August, helped tackle a variety of problems facing Texas. He helped lead the fight in the House to restore $3 billion of the $5 billion education cut in 2011. He worked with his colleagues to pass a law that reduces traffic congestion from oil and gas production areas. He was able to get Texas pipeline safety regulations in line with federal standards, no small feat with Republicans controlling the Legislature.

A former prosecutor, Rep. Wu sponsored and passed HB 3259 with Republican Rep. Joan Huffman. The law prevented forensic interview recordings involving children from being leaked to the public. He introduced a dozen other criminal justice bills, including ones that would close a loophole effectively turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of immigration detainees by detention officers and a bill preventing rapists from claiming a child from the rape. You can read more about Wu's criminal justice proposals here.

During the abortion rights battle in June, Rep. Wu impressed women's rights advocates everywhere by speaking passionately against the bill and helping to delay it as long as possible in the House.

Burnt Orange Report interviewed Rep. Wu about his accomplishments, his views on the legislature, and issues like climate change and campaign donations.

What are you proud of from your work in the 2013 Legislature?

Democrats were outnumbered, but not out-gunned during the 83rd Regular session. We fought for what was important to our communities. We stuck together. We restored a good chunk of the cuts from the previous session and got a lot of the reforms we wanted. I was appointed to the Energy Resources, and was able to pass a few bills that were heard in that committee. We passed legislation that would decrease oil and gas production truck traffic on roads by allowing saltwater pipelines to be placed in rights of way. We expanded the use of combined heat and power facilities. We brought Texas pipeline safety standards in line with federal standards.  I'm really proud of my accomplishments from my first session. And while I didn't serve on the committee, criminal justice issues are important to me as a former prosecutor and became a large part of my legislative agenda. I was pleased that HB 3259 passed because it protects vulnerable children who are victims of abuse or neglect. But many of the criminal justice reforms I wanted were too big to tackle in one session, so I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues to find solutions.

What surprised you in your freshman term about the way the Legislature works?

I've been here as a staffer so I had some familiarity with the process. It was actually much nicer than I expected. (Well, except for the three special sessions)

How much of a role do campaign contributions make in representatives' vote choices, in your view?

Well, considering I was my own biggest donor, I would have to say that my role was considerable. But seriously, given how fast-paced the session is and with the wide range of issues that are covered, every elected official makes a point to listen to their constituents, as well as stakeholders, to inform their vote.

From your perch on the House Energy Resources and Elections Committees, how seriously would say climate change is being taken in Texas?

There is no doubt that climate change needs to be taken more seriously. I mentioned in the first response that I successfully passed energy legislation that minimized our environmental footprint, and I'm proud of that. (I don't think the topic ever came up during the elections committee). I try to keep in mind that the way you choose to frame an issue can make certain measures easier to pass. For instance, preserving our natural resources and protecting wildlife are both tenets of the conservation movement, and things that most everyone can agree on. It's extremely important to find that common ground.

What have you heard from your constituents about this session, and the overall state of Texas?

I think most people are pleased since we were able to take care of some long standing problems. But we also heard an outpouring of complaints during the special sessions when we were dealing with more divisive issues.

What are your aims for the next session?

Learning from my experience the first time around and building stronger relationships.

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