A Laredo resident, Zaffirini is seeking her 11th term in the Texas Senate. She is a former journalist and communications professional who serves on the Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee, as well as the Higher Education, State Affairs and Local Government committees.
Hear from the candidate
The rainy day fund increased by a billion dollars since April to $13.6 billion – is it time to spend some of that money, and if so, where?
When we established the “rainy day fund,” our goal was to reach $2 billion — which we surpassed long ago. While it is important to maintain a healthy balance, I am confident that expenditures from this fund will be replaced quickly. Accordingly, I support using it to finance legislative priorities, including by investing $600 million to expand Medicaid, although I would prefer to fund it with general revenue. This annual investment would result in significant savings in other parts of our Medicaid programs, reduce spending for state-funded health services for the uninsured and increase state revenue due to Medicaid-related expansion and economic activity. I also support using “rainy day” funds to invest significantly in education at all levels and in updating our water infrastructure, including by replacing pipelines, securing adequate water sources and updating treatment plants. Because widespread droughts are anticipated to continue, water is likely to become scarcer, and localities lack the resources to singlehandedly adopt long-term solutions. Additionally, the Comptroller has projected a $27 billion surplus for the next legislative session. I support using a portion of it for property tax relief.
What would you like to see the Legislature do to make Texas cities better places to live? In what ways could state officials work better with local officials?
To make cities better places in which to live the Legislature should first respect local control. County and city elected officials are closer to their communities than state-level officials and best reflect their constituencies’ needs, interests and values. Especially considering how quickly our state is growing, the Legislature needs to collaborate with them closely and make adequate investments to increase affordable housing, upgrade infrastructure, improve public education and enhance public safety. Another important way state officials can work better with local officials is by monitoring what’s happening in every part of their respective districts and communicating with constituents accordingly. My staff and I, for example, prioritize reviewing local newspapers, building strong relationships with local leaders (be they Democrats or Republicans) and meeting regularly with constituents and stakeholders. Because local officials, teachers and families know their communities better than anyone, they help us develop legislation that addresses their specific community needs.
What do you consider the top challenge facing Texas and how would you address it?
The top challenge facing Texas at this time is to fix the electric grid. After millions were left without power and hundreds died in February, 2021, I filed Senate Bill (SB) 845 to establish minimum weatherization standards and SB 857 to make membership on the Public Utility Commission of Texas an elected, instead of appointed, position. Although my bills were not passed, I’m pleased the Legislature mandated weatherization of equipment and imposed penalties for noncompliance. Record high temperatures this summer forced ERCOT to request Texans conserve energy for fear of another potential grid failure. Thank God no outages occurred, but this threat emphasized the fragility of our independent grid and the need to consider joining the national grid. To ensure that Texans are never again left in the dark, we must increase energy strength, reliability and sustainability. Beyond the power grid, we must ensure Texans benefit from excellent education and health care systems; sustainable waters sources; clean air; a safety net that protects our most vulnerable; a strong job market, including oil and gas jobs; and safe schools and neighborhoods, which means reducing crime, supporting law enforcement appropriately and doing our part to secure a safe border.
We live in a time of deep polarization. If elected, how do you see your responsibility to represent all your constituents, even those who didn’t vote for you?
As a legislator I always have worked hard to represent the best interests of all my constituents, including those who don’t vote for me. Live Oak and McMullen counties, for example, are Republican counties that I typically don’t carry, but my staff and I devote significant time to working with their county judges to address local issues. Together we strive to meet the best needs and interests of our mutual constituents. In the Texas Legislature it’s impossible to pass a bill without Republican support. Having passed more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State of Texas and being the highest bill-passer for four consecutive sessions reflect my effective bipartisanship and my ability to excel as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated legislature. No issue is too big or too small for my attention: If it impacts my constituents, my staff and I care about it and will address it, regardless of their political affiliation. On a related note, some of my most vocal critics on social media have been transformed into friends and supporters after we collaborated on timely issues of mutual interest.
Texas is losing thousands of teachers to burnout, political division and a perceived inability to do their jobs. How should the state respond to ensure our children get a quality education?
To ensure our children get a quality education the state must reflect through its actions the premise that education is a right, not a privilege. The key is to make teachers feel safe, valued and trusted by increasing funding to our schools, including for teacher salaries and school safety, and by trusting our teachers to guide difficult conversations in their classrooms. I support full funding of teachers’ salaries, retirement benefits, and continuing education and staff development programs and school safety. What’s more, as a member of the Senate Committee to Protect All Texans, I hope that next session we can pass legislation to ensure safe schools and communities. Protecting students and educators has been among my highest legislative priorities. In 2019, for example, I sponsored and passed House Bill 2195, which requires school districts to include active shooter policies as a part of their multi-hazard emergency plans and requires school district peace officers to complete an active shooter response training program approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.