Texas is big, but Texans aren’t big on talking politics

Posted Sunday, Jun. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy As it turns out, Texans take two sides on every question:

• We don’t know, and

• We don’t care.

Three weeks after a university study found that Texas ranks critically low in “civic health” — from not voting to not talking issues or supporting causes — one of the authors says the response has been “dismay.”

“Yet people say they’re not really surprised,” said Regina Lawrence, director of the nonpartisan Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the census-based Texas Civic Health Index.

“But they still use words like discouraging, dismayed and shocking.”

(Full disclosure: A family member of mine works at the Strauss Institute, which is named for the late Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss and has no connection with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.)

The study describes a big, sprawling, generally detached Texas where we don’t vote, call officials or even talk public policy as often as most Americans, and haven’t for decades.

“Texans are just not as vigorously involved, either in the state or in their communities,” Lawrence said Saturday by phone.

If we want a healthy say-so in our state, counties, cities and schools, “this is kind of a checkup to say do some things differently,” she said.

Almost two-thirds of Texans don’t vote. Most say they’re too busy, but about 1 in 7 cynically says voting won’t matter.

We rank 49th in contacting officials and 44th in talking issues.

We also rank in the bottom 10 in volunteering (Utah and Nebraska lead) and in adults donating at least $25 to a church or charity (Utah, again).

Just saying “go vote” isn’t enough. Social clubs, civic groups and social-media commentators can do more to help Texans connect with cities and communities, particularly the thousands moving daily from elsewhere in the U.S.

Instead of shying away from hot-button issues, organizations can promote discussions and reward public involvement.

“We’ve been surprised to find that many groups don’t engage in civic matters,” Lawrence said.

In The Dallas Morning News, Republican state Chairman Steve Munisteri belittled the study, saying Texans aren’t very involved because we “haven’t had some huge crisis” and “People are generally happy.”

I guess you might say Texas is bliss.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy Get alerts at RebelMouse.com/budkennedy

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