Texas is changing. Can the GOP rise to the challenge?

A Texas delegate at the Republican National Convention, Aug. 30, 2012, in tampa, Fla.
A Texas delegate at the Republican National Convention, Aug. 30, 2012, in tampa, Fla.

With the race to the bottom known as the Texas Republican primary behind us, we now have a clearer picture of who will be running here statewide in November, with Greg Abbott at the top of the ticket, George P. Bush somewhere in the middle, and a few races headed for runoff elections.

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If the primary is any indication of what to expect in the general election, it’s clear that the candidates on the right are wholly unprepared to tackle the challenges our state faces over the next four years -- and in the coming decades.

I believe in Wendy Davis and my party’s slate of candidates, of course, but I am also hopeful that Texas conservatives can engage us in a substantive discussion of the policy issues that will determine our future.

If you followed the primary, you’d think Texas voters were obsessed with abortion, gun rights and border security -- not the core concerns of a growing, diversifying population in our nation’s second-largest state. Someone should remind the Texas GOP that the Second Amendment was ratified more than 220 years ago (it’s not going anywhere), that the abortion rate in Texas is at a 40-year low, and that net migration to the U.S. from Mexico has dropped to zero since the recession. While candidates choose to focus on these red meat issues, the truth is that their attention is desperately needed elsewhere.

Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, and nearly 90% of the 4.3 million people Texas added in the last decade were minorities. We will be a majority Latino state by 2030, and we need Republicans to be working for and with Latinos, not against us.

Candidates for statewide office should be asking how we can turn this population boom into a model for economic growth, and how we can be a state that creates opportunity for the many, not just the few. The answer is clear: building a future of opportunity for all Texans begins with strong schools, good-paying jobs and investment in our infrastructure. These are not partisan priorities; these are Texas priorities.

As someone with two young daughters, I want GOP candidates to talk more seriously about education. The quality of our education system is the greatest measure of our state’s economic future. Take a look at my city, San Antonio, where we have a universal pre-K program. It doesn’t matter what side of town you live on or how much money your parents earn; this boost to your education is a given. This is all the more important in a state whose low-income student population is growing exponentially and whose public school finance system has been ruled unconstitutional.

We often hear the GOP message about government getting out of its own way so the private sector can invest. But think about what San Antonio is doing. In order for our kids to be successful in obtaining private sector jobs and creating private sector investment, they need to have the educational foundation that will put them on the path to success. This type of investment should extend beyond the Alamo City to all corners of the state. Candidates who understand this will be rewarded for their foresight.

Investing in human capital goes beyond our children, of course; it extends to the half a million Texans earning minimum wage -- more than in any other state. Putting more money in the pockets of low-wage earners in Texas will stimulate billions of dollars in economic growth, as low-income earners -- 80% of whom are adults, not high school kids -- are far more likely to spend the marginal dollar he or she earns and put it back into the economy.

Raising the minimum wage -- which has the added effect of lifting wages for other low-income Texans, too -- will help raise people out of poverty. It will enable them to rely less on federal and state-funded programs, which in turn saves Texas tax dollars -- everything a conservative could hope for. Candidates who support a living wage may very well win the support of those in economic distress.

Finally, I want to hear statewide candidates talk about water and roads. Water and roads are not the sexiest of topics, but with millions of Texans living without an adequate water supply in times of drought, and a state Department of Transportation that’s converting miles of asphalt roads into unpaved gravel due to budget shortfalls, these topics should be of great concern to statewide candidates.

We need to move past Dust Bowl-era solutions and invest in the modern infrastructure that will move our economy forward.

People across the country are looking to Texas as model for the future -- let’s show them we can rise to the challenge. I hope Wendy wins, but I also hope the Texas GOP is at least aware of our education, economic and infrastructure challenges, no matter how they fare in November.

That’d be an important step forward, wouldn’t it?

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer is a seven-term Texas representative from San Antonio and the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s largest Latino legislative caucus.