A former Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress is returning to the political arena, but this time he’s leaving the ‘D’ next to his name out in hopes of uniting a polarized state electorate.
Joseph Kopser, a military veteran and tech entrepreneur, lost his 2018 bid for the Texas House District 21 seat, but Kopser isn’t staying out of political affairs. The Austin resident has launched a nonpartisan nonprofit called USTomorrow, whose mission is to eliminate hyperpartisanship in Texas.
How does USTomorrow propose to do that? By tackling what it believes is the one issue both sides can agree on: workforce development.
“We have far more in common than what divides us,” Kopser said Thursday after introducing his organization to economic development professionals at the Texas Economic Development Council’s 2019 conference at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel. “If we stay away from divisive issues and work on the issues that matter most to every single family, which is their economic security, … a lot of these other issues are more manageable because people are willing to sit more nicely together at the table.”
Launched last month, USTomorrow’s first initiative will provide economic development and civic leaders with an online platform that will gauge public opinion and glean qualitative data on the economic welfare of the communities USTomorrow is focused on: the 17 congressional districts that surround the four major metropolitan areas in Texas.
In San Antonio, Kopser said the initiative could key in on high-growth industries, such as cybersecurity, and accessible avenues for training a future workforce, like community colleges. The approach, however, will ultimately be in the hands of the community, he said.
Beginning in November, USTomorrow and its partner Polco, a digital platform for civic engagement, will enable economic developers and local government officials in Bexar County to poll residents online on their economic anxieties and determine approaches for tackling local workforce issues.
San Antonio has the highest rate of poverty among the 25 most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to the 2018 American Communities Survey, with just over 15 percent of its populace living under the poverty line. For Kopser’s part, economic insecurity should send alarm bells to civic leaders not only for the economic implications but also because it threatens democratic participation.
“If you are struggling to even find a job that puts food on the table, you’re not quickly thinking about the connection to the local officials,” he said. “That’s where we come in. We want to combine our forces and partner with organizations that are talking about the issues around workforce readiness.”
Kopser said his 2018 run for office taught him how difficult it is to engage people on civic and political issues because the technological tools are often not available – or perhaps not scalable – and, more and more, important venues for community engagement are becoming insular and hostile to outsiders.
Recent national polls reflect the growing partisan divide in the U.S. For example, Republicans and Democrats widely disagree on whether the U.S. government is headed in the right direction under President Donald Trump, according to a May YouGov poll.
Kopser said he experienced the hyperpartisan nature of today’s politics during his run for Congress. Facing off against Republican Chip Roy in last year’s general election, Kopser said he often was shut out by voters who were staunchly Republican because they simply could not rationalize voting for a Democrat. He said polarization is preventing government from working as effectively as it should. Often the loudest and most contemptuous voices are the ones heard over the broader community, Kopser said.
And if the business community ignores the partisan divide, it will only result in more gridlock and bad public policy, he said.
“That’s not good for your community,” he said. “That’s not good for Texas, and it’s certainly not good for the US tomorrow.”