Texas Sunrise: Rep. Anderson tell us a little about yourself.
Doc Anderson: Call me Doc. Everybody does. My name is Charles “Doc “ Anderson and I am a retired veterinarian from Waco Texas. I’ve had the honor of serving as the State House Representative for District 56 for about 16 years. I currently serve as the chair of the Legislative Rural Caucus which is comprised of House and Senate members. Our rural caucus’ mission directs us to help uplift our Texas rural communities through better rural public policies. You know, we try as best we can to improve the way of life in rural Texas.
Texas Sunrise: So how long you been chair of the caucus?
Doc Anderson: This is my third term, and I’m very honored to serve in that position. It’s been very enlightening for me to be engaged in the wide variety of issues that face the caucus and for that matter the State. The caucus provides a tremendous opportunity to educate the rural caucus members by bringing in folks from all walks of life: urban, suburban and rural and representing all sorts of interests into the same room. They provide their perspectives and we provide our rural perspective. It works great: we deal with their issues better and, in turn, educate them on issues that impact rural Texas. That gives us an opportunity when push comes to shove and you have a vote materializing in committee or on the floor, our folks are educated to make an informed decision. I’ll say this. The caucus sure helps us communicate which is what’s important in the Texas House.
Texas Sunrise: How many members in the rural caucus?
Doc Anderson: This last go around we had 86 members and like I say, the caucus is comprised of both state House and Senate members. So, we have a strong reach in both chambers. We encourage everybody to join, all the members (no matter if they are city folk) and it is nonpartisan. The point is to let legislative members bring their legislation to us to look over, discuss the bills and evaluate the impact on rural communities. This communication helps us from an educational standpoint and then they hear our issues. Then, when we’re on the House floor they understand where we are coming from and when appropriate emphasize our influence on the process with their rural issues. All of which is super important in this state.
Texas Sunrise: What were some really hot issues that impacted the rural areas last legislative session?
Doc Anderson: The number one issue that we were dealing with was the broadband expansion – reaching out to rural areas. I carried a couple pieces of legislation on rural broadband. To me, broadband access is a critical component to the improving quality of life in rural communities. Broadband expansion allows people to age in place, if you will, and it’s a big help with the education of our youngsters. Also, I believe it will help open small, rural businesses to a world market. I think it can be a boon to rural economic development as folks realize that the rural quality of life is great and that rural businesses can often times operate a lot more efficiently than their counterparts in big cities. As we all know, there are some big problems doing business in major cities, such as quality of life, stress, traffic, and so on – those are the big issues. On other matters, medical transportation issues are always huge. Also critically important in rural areas – public education issues and water issues, so we run the gamut of what folks deal with in their daily lives.
Texas Sunrise: On broadband you passed the bill, so now the implementation of that bill, what is going to be happening with that?
Doc Anderson: We passed several bills last session and we kind of split them up with several members on several different bills. And one of them has established an office in the governor’s office for rural issues and actually a committee has been appointed to look at that end. I’m very pleased that Governor Greg Abbott was quick on getting folks nominated and so they can start looking at some of the real issues. Another broadband bill allowed counties to take advantage of existing resources available to them such as utilizing existing right away and easements and things like that.
And then we had a bill that allowed TxDOT to publish when they embark on doing any kind of digging. So, if TxDOT started digging trenches, broadband providers could come along and utilize that trench and that effort and build their broadband in that community. And also, with state buildings, TxDOT is working with broadband implementation and that’s coming along just fine. Well it should be squared away next go round and so that is a big plus. Another thing I liked about the broadband debate – through the process a lot of people became a lot more familiar with some issues in rural Texas.
Texas Sunrise: What do you think in the next session is going to be hot button issues facing rural Texas?
Doc Anderson: We will definitely have to look at water issues across the board and bring some resources to allow smaller communities to access the bureaucracy in Washington and Austin. It is very difficult for a lot of people who are intimidated by the fact they don’t have the human resources to develop the grant writing programs when dealing with some of these pressing water availability and water quality issues and problems. It’s a constant effort to try to give our folks a voice and give them a way to deal with the bureaucratic agencies in Austin and DC.
Rural transportation is always an issue. To help the people with medical issues and make sure that the Medical Transportation Program is as efficient as possible. Public education and education funding are always challenging to ensure rural public schools are the best they can possibly be. Some school districts have a little difficulty dealing with the mandates from Austin Texas.
Texas Sunrise: So, one last question. When you’re out and about in rural towns and listening to folks what are you hearing in terms of what’s on people’s minds as you talk to them? What’s bothering them and what kind of concerns do they have and what do they hope to make better?
Doc Anderson: Rural folks are very cognizant of what’s going on nationally and internationally. They are aware of the forces that impact businesses in their communities. Often, they feel they can’t really do anything about it but, but that said, it is front and center on their minds. Folks will tell me about the difficulties running their businesses trying to expand their business and create and retain jobs. They need us, as policymakers, to ensure we create the best environment for success for rural businesses. Also, in rural communities there is always an issue of trying to keep the youngsters at home, working and thriving in their hometowns. We find over the years that if a community strives to improve commerce, the youngster may venture off initially but within a few years they start to see the advantages, quality of life issues etc. in rural Texas and they start to look at coming back. So, it is important to continue those improvements in transportation, creating jobs in the rural areas and promoting agriculture and really looking across the board to enhance and improve of opportunities.