Legislative updates; Aggie Spotlight
Legislative updates; Aggie Spotlight
A Letter from the Director
Howdy, and welcome to the fall edition of our Advocacy Network newsletter. Just as the temperatures have (finally) cooled in College Station, the political landscape of our state has heated up with intrigue. There have been many surprises: The long-serving speaker of the Texas House, Joe Straus, announced that he was not seeking re-election, and six members of the Texas Congressional delegation, including two sitting committee chairs, will depart the House at the end of their terms.  There is definitely no "off season" during political cycles!
In this edition of the newsletter, you will find a summary of major political announcements that will shake up the composition of both Congress and the Texas Legislature. Congress and portions of the state legislature are debating several issues that will have an effect on higher education. The Higher Education Act – the signature federal legislation which governs higher education programs  is due for reauthorization. In addition, the U.S. House-initiated GOP tax plan has raised the ire of several higher education leaders and national advocacy groups. Back in Texas, both the speaker and the lieutenant governor have tasked the committees in their respective chambers with numerous interim charges. The higher education committees each received six specific charges to study during the interim.  Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also created a stand-alone interim committee in the Senate to study formula funding for higher education.  
Our regular Aggie Spotlight differs from previous newsletters: Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview Virginia state Sen. Bryce Reeves, fighting Texas Aggie Class of 1989. I am sure that you will enjoy getting to know a little more about an Aggie who truly demonstrates selfless service both to his country and to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Through his answers, you will hear Bryce share his thoughts on the influential and lasting impact of the Aggie core values on his life and career.
Even though the debates about higher education may be crowded out by other topics, it’s important to stay informed on the issues, as well as the politicians and policymakers who have a direct effect on our university. Your continued support and advocacy are vital. Stay tuned for more surprises… the 2018 election season is right around the corner.
Thanks and gig ’em,
Dave Fujimoto ’17
Director of Strategic Engagement
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State Legislative Update

The biggest question surrounding the state Capitol in Austin: Who will be the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives during the 2019 session? In a surprise announcement, Joe Straus said he would not seek re-election for his San Antonio House seat. This decision left House Republicans scrambling for a succession plan. Since his announcement, a handful of members have already thrown their hats in the ring, but our expectation is that there will eventually be a least a dozen different candidates for the speaker's gavel.
The Republican House Caucus is scheduled to meet in early December to discuss the strategy for the election of the next speaker. This caucus is firmly split between its moderate and conservative wing, as evidenced by the tensions between the Senate and House agendas during the 2017 session. “The Democrats are hoping the Republicans will remain split and that the next speaker will have to draw Democratic support,” Ross Ramsey wrote in the Texas Tribune.  At this point, there are no clear front-runners for the speaker's gavel.
Picture by Bob Daemmrich at the Texas Tribune
Click on the picture above to read Ross Ramsey's Texas Tribune story.

As is standard practice between legislative sessions, both Speaker Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released interim charges. The House and Senate higher education committees were tasked to explore a variety of issues: innovative and non-traditional models of education delivery, educator preparation programs, Title IX policies, formula funding models and the 60x30TX statewide plan. Both sets of charges also called for a review on dual credit programs and examining whether they are effective in reducing time-to-degree completion rates. The goals of the 60x30TX plan are also being reviewed and refined.
Since the end of the special session, Patrick has also announced the creation of an interim committee focused on higher education formula funding. This joint committee includes Sens. Hancock, Kolkhorst, Hinojosa, Campbell and Schwertner. (Schwertner’s district includes Brazos County.) In an interesting twist, the interim committee did not include any members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, including the committee’s chair, Sen. Kel Seliger. House members of the interim committee have not yet been announced.

Federal Legislative Update

The political landscape of the 116th Congress will look vastly different from the current version. Six members of the Texas delegation — including one Aggie — will depart the House at the end of their current terms. U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling ’79 (chairman of the House Financial Services Committee) recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election in 2018. Hensarling graduated from Texas A&M with a B.A. in economics in 1979 and later earned a J.D. degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He has represented Texas' 5th District since 2003. In his statement to the press, Hensarling said that he had “already stayed far longer than (he) had originally planned.” As of this moment, Hensarling is just one of six representatives to leave the Texas delegation prior to the 2018 elections. Joining him are Reps. Gene Green (D-Houston), Sam Johnson (R-Plano), Ted Poe (R-Houston), Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) and Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). Green, Johnson, Poe and Smith will retire, and O’Rourke is challenging Ted Cruz to be the junior senator from Texas.
Picture by Allison Shelley at the Texas Tribune
Click on the picture above for the Texas Tribune's story on Jeb Hensarling. 

2018 will also bring changes to the signaure federal law that governs higher education. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) recently told Inside Higher Education, “The Senate Education Committee will begin this fall to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, and my hope is that we can move towards a simplified student aid system of one grant, one loan, and one work-study program.”  The committee members and the Education Secretary are also recommending changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application process.
Since it was originally passed in 1965, the Higher Education Act has equipped colleges and universities with educational tools and has provided financial assistance to underserved applicants. 
The Higher Education Act has five main provisions: Pell Grants, financial need grants, state tuition assistance, financial and cultural need encouragement for post-secondary education, and direct institution assistance. All of these provisions are directly related to the act's main goal: "to assist in making available the benefits of postsecondary education to eligible students.” 
The act is designed to be reauthorized by Congress every ten years; the last time it was reauthorized was in 2008. University leaders, alumni, students and advocacy organizations will watch the debates with keen interest and make a vocal effort to shape the final bill.  The Texas A&M Advocacy Network will follow and report on elements of the bill as they are made public.
House Passes GOP Tax Plan
On Nov. 16, U.S. House Republicans passed tax reform legislation widely opposed by higher education leaders. The main opposition from this field stems from the belief that the bill's provisions (as currently drafted before reconciliation) will make college degrees less attainable, as well as harm the financial strength of institutions. The bill passed by a 227 to 205 vote with 13 Republicans voting against the plan; it did not receive support from any House Democrats.
The House plan dramatically lowers corporate tax rates and shrinks the number of income tax brackets. It has received criticism in higher education circles because of the provisions regarding taxation of endowments, revenue offsetting, and the elimination of certain benefits for college students and their families. The House proposal would also tax tuition waivers for college employees, including graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants. The Senate's version of the tax bill does not include this provision.

Bryce Reeves '89

Aggie Spotlight: The Hon. Bryce Reeves '89

Texas A&M is fortunate in the fact that many former students enter public service through a career in politics. In addition to the 23 Aggies who currently hold elected office in the Texas legislature, two Aggies hold office in other states. State senator and Army veteran Bryce Reeves, fighting Texas Aggie Class of 1989, was gracious enough to take the time to answer the following questions and reflect on the influence of Texas A&M on his life and career.
Where did you grow up, and what led you to attend Texas A&M?
I grew up in Houston, Texas, the second child of four, and I was the second kid in my family to ever attend college. I felt the call to service about 10th grade in high school. I attended a program at Texas A&M main campus for oceanography.  I met a senior in the Corps of Cadets who took the time to actually walk me back to the Quad and introduce me to some fish. I was hooked at that point and no longer wanted to look to the military academies.  I also have an older brother, Blain Reeves ’87. He is two years older, and I remember coming home and telling him about my experience. He felt the same way I did and started before me. We come from a long line of service.  Five of my great-uncles all served during World War II. My father also served. It was a natural progression for the Reeves boys to serve in uniform. My mom would tell you it was too much John Wayne as kids. Either way, I was blessed by the good Lord to be able to attend Texas A&M University.
What activities did you participate in during your time at Texas A&M?  How did these activities, and your unique Aggie experience, prepare you for your career and time in public office?
During my time at TAMU, I participated for four years in the Corps of Cadets.  I was a Rudder Ranger, Ross Volunteer, Ranger Challenge, as well as several other non-Corps related activities. The Corps of Cadets trained me not only for politics but prepared me to be a leader from day one. Learning to live a “fish” life by not being able to like, love or feel tends to build character quickly.  The tenets of leadership are engrained in every aspect of Corps life.  It allowed me to be a proficient Army officer and prepared me to become an Army Airborne Ranger. There still exists a noble call of service in public office.  While today’s hyper-partisanship has increased, the moral values instilled all of those years ago at Texas A&M still hold true today. I will forever be grateful.
Describe your post-college career and your decision to enter public service.
After graduating TAMU, I started a 13-year career in the US Army.  After that, I went into law enforcement, and the last 17 years I have owned my own company, and the last five and a half years served in the Senate of Virginia. My decision to enter into public service started the day I wore a cadet uniform. To me, there is no higher calling than to serve your fellow man or woman. Being in law enforcement or as an elected official are just an extenuation of public service that was instilled in me at an early age. My mother said that “education is not only for earning a living, but for learning to live, serve, and lead.” I took that to heart, and I am here today because of that calling.
What are the biggest challenges you faced as a state politician? What are your biggest individual or group accomplishments while serving as a state politician?
The biggest challenge to face as a politician is the amount of time away from your family and the time spent in the day-to-day grind of policy and committees. It is increasingly difficult to get some work done with the amount of time it takes. Too often my family suffers or comes last, and that has a tendency to take its toll on your mind. I think the biggest accomplishment by far for me as a politician is to not be a politician but exemplify those traits that Lawrence Sullivan Ross had: soldier, statesman, knightly gentleman. I was elected five and a half years ago by a mere 86 votes on election night to defeat a 28-year incumbent, arguably the most powerful senator in the Commonwealth in a district that was heavily Democratic, as a Republican.  I have utilized my ability to reach across the aisle and broker deals with a Democrat governor to not only restore our right to carry concealed firearms but expand those abilities and close some very bad loopholes in our law that would allow violent domestic abusers access to those types of weapons.  All under the huge pressure from groups like those of George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and other anti-gun organizations. The governor signed the bipartisan legislation, and 420,000 Virginians were able to keep their permits.  I’ve carried and had passed multiple bills that help our active, reserve and National Guard as well as thousands of our veterans.
What is your favorite memory from your time at Texas A&M?
My favorite memory of Texas A&M has to be when we received our Corps brass. It was a fulfillment of a commitment that at times seemed a million miles away. There is something about Aggieland that instills a sense of belonging that is very hard to describe. Maybe it’s the lifelong friendships that are made. Maybe it is the tradition of saying howdy to EVERY Aggie I’ve ever met around this world. It’s a sense of belonging to a place that has never been reproduced anywhere else. There is no other place like Texas A&M University. Gig ’em!
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Fallen Aggie soldier's car restored, returned to son
On Friday, Nov. 3, the CBS Evening News told the story of the first Aggie killed in the war on terror in 2003 and how his now-15-year-old son was surprised for his birthday with his father’s 1999 convertible — found by his mother, then bought and restored by a patriotic nonprofit that heard of his wish to drive his dad’s car.

“I can’t even imagine being a 15-year-old kid whose dad died being able to say, ‘Someone gave me his car that looks as good as the day that he left it,’” Jessica Johns ’03 told the BYU Daily Universe.
When Jonathan Rozier ‘01 was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade at a traffic control point in Baghdad, he left behind wife Jessica and their infant son, Justin. Shortly after his death, Jessica had to sell the black 1999 Toyota Celica that Jon had purchased. 

A few months ago, Justin expressed interest in finding his father’s car to drive it as his first car. Jessica started looking right away.
Using the car’s VIN and social media, she located the car in Utah — within a week. After hearing the car’s history, the owner agreed to sell it to her. 

But Kyle Fox, founder of a group called Follow the Flag, heard the story and started a drive to raise the money. 

Follow the Flag bought the car, and Kyle solicited eight local businesses to help refurbish it — tires, paint, audio and more. The BYU upholstery shop, which takes care of the university’s furnishings and vehicles, donated hours of time redoing the seats.
Then Kyle, a friend and their sons drove the car from Utah to Texas. And the whole endeavor was still a surprise to Justin.

On Oct. 21, they drove the car up to the Johns family home near Devine, southwest of San Antonio.

“It wasn’t until his mom asked him if he realized that the convertible was his dad’s that it all sunk in,” the Devine News reported.

Jessica told the Devine News that because she thought it would take much longer to locate the car, she had started her search thinking she might be able to give it to him for his 16th birthday. 

Justin turned 15 on Oct. 24 and hasn’t got his driver’s license yet, but he asks Jessica and her husband, PJ Johns, to pick him up at football practice in the car.
The Association of Former Students serves current and former students through scholarships, programming, and events. The Association is able to create these opportunities through the generous gifts of former students and friends of Texas A&M who wish to impact Texas A&M through the Century Club. If you are interested in impacting Texas A&M through The Association of Former Students, I encourage you to click the button below to help Pass It Back and Pay It Forward. Whoop!

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