Progressive Democrat for State Representative
Chito Vela for State Representative House District 46
Jose “Chito” Vela is an immigration attorney, workers’ rights advocate and a former City of Austin planning commissioner. A longtime advocate for working families in Austin, Vela is the former board chair of the nonprofit Workers Defense Project and is a partner in Walker Gates Vela PLLC, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants. Before opening his own law practice, which also includes criminal defense work, Chito served as General Counsel for a Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives and prior to that was an Assistant Attorney General in the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
Chito is married to Fabiola Flores, an attorney in the Austin office of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. A former president of the Blanton Elementary PTA, Chito has two children who attend AISD schools: Josue, age 12, and Perla, age 10. Chito and Fabiola welcomed the newest member of the family, a son, in August 2017.
Chito earned a Masters in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a law degree from the University of Texas.
Money in politics continues to corrupt our political system. You would think Texas’ ethics rules would not allow a member of the legislature to lobby for private sector clients or get government contracts form the cities, school districts and counties they represent. But Texas does allow these types of contracts. This is wrong and creates serious conflicts of interest. Voters should not have to ask if their elected officials are working for the public good or working to enrich themselves.
I pledge that, as your State Representative, I will not enter into any consultant contracts with industries that do business with the state. This is called lobbying. It is unethical. Period. I pledge to serve my district with complete transparency and be vigilant that family, friends, and donors are not favorites to bid on lucrative government contracts.
Because members of the Texas Legislature are paid only $600 a month, I will continue my law practice as a criminal defense and immigration attorney when I am elected. I will scrupulously avoid any business dealings that could create a conflict of interest. As your State Representative, my votes will be based on my constituents’ interests and on my political principles that I promised to District 46.
I believe that Democrats in Texas need to rally to recommit to an unflinching progressive agenda that is committed to social justice, civil rights and labor. In other words, we need to return to our roots as Democrats and ally politics with social movements. I am running because I believe my experience in community involvement and grassroots organizing can bring people power to the floor of the state legislature. I want to give a voice to those who are marginalized. Right now, the state of Texas has several outrageously oppressive statutes that target the most vulnerable populations. My priority issues include getting the state to expand Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, criminal justice reform and enacting policies that will rebuild what is a broken economy.
My law practice focuses on criminal defense and I have a front row seat observing the institutional inequity in Texas’ criminal justice system. Texas incarcerates more people than any other state in the union. There are simply too many people in its county jails and state prisons that do not belong there. A disproportionate number of Texans in jail and prison are there because of mental health or drug problems. Many more are there because they cannot pay their bond or could not afford good legal representation. Texas needs to legalize and tax marijuana and reduce all other drug possession offenses to misdemeanors. And we need to make sure that the people in our prisons and jails are there because they are a threat to public safety, not because they are poor and cannot afford an attorney.
At no time in this country’s history has the issue of immigration been treated with such draconian measures at both the federal and state level. I see this every day in my law practice representing immigrants. Today, in Texas, the five major sanctuary cities have taken action to block the state’s attempt to enforce a harsh, heavy-handed federal law. In the middle of the 2017 hurricane Harvey, a federal judge took the side of the cities. While the state of Texas will most certainly appeal that decision, these cities will continue to fight. Ironically, the construction and related clean up industries tasked with re-building after the hurricane rely on immigrant workers. I pledge to be a strong and consistent voice in this debate. We need Democrats in the State Legislature to organize and take on the Republican immigration agenda.
The school finance system in Texas is broken. That is no secret. As a father of two children in the Austin Independent School District and a former PTA president at Blanton Elementary, I have seen first-hand the impact of the lack of resources in public schools. Texas needs to provide more funding to its schools so Texas children can get the education they need to be successful and build a modern economy. School finance reform is an ongoing and complex process. I am committed to grappling with tough issues to reach long-term solutions. Any education reform should include safeguards that ensure professional educators are allowed the flexibility and creativity they need to work with a diverse student body unencumbered by onerous standardized state requirements.
Texas has the highest number of uninsured citizens in the country. While Texas is eligible for billions in federal Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act that would provide health care coverage for an additional 800,000 Texans. The State of Texas, under its Republican leadership, has refused to expand health care coverage. Even as other conservative, Republican states like Louisiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas have taken advantage of this generous federal funding to expand their Medicaid programs, Texas continues to neglect the opportunity to provide health insurance for working class Texas families.
The Supreme Court ruling and guidance from the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare allows states, including Texas, to quickly and easily expand health care coverage and I will fight to make this happen.
Chito and Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of AmericaReproductive rights are human rights and should not be sidelined to the margins of some movement. When women can control their fertility, they can control their destiny. Access to affordable birth control is the bedrock. It is as simple as that. Here is who is seeking affordable birth control –young people just out of high school, foster kids recently deemed adults, broke college students, young married couples—- well just let’s say everyone who is of childbearing age who doesn’t have private health insurance. Planned Parenthood Clinics in Texas allow for a sliding scale payment for an entire universe of young women of child-bearing age to find a way to control their fertility.
Make no mistake, young men are not opposed to their partners seeking out this health care, they are simply ignorant about how to access it. We must support access to reproductive health care, which is so affordable, its largely based on screenings and preventative care that keeps our young women safe and healthy. The state should shift the funding for public awareness programs aimed at shaming young women (i.e. “crisis pregnancy programs”) to programs that educate young men. Texas needs strong, outspoken advocates for reproductive rights at the Capitol.
The latest word is that the State wants to cut the $3.1 million a year in Medicaid funds that Texas provides for family planning. I will fight these measures that put our young people in danger.
Texas needs to accept the fact that global warming is real and take serious measures to reduce our carbon emissions, prepare for natural disasters that are increasingly severe, and protect the environment and wildlife. I am committed to the conservation of all our natural resources at the statewide level. The State of Texas could learn from the City of Austin’s historically significant success at saving Barton Springs from extinction.
Urban areas in Texas are increasingly struggling with traffic congestion and transportation funding. Austin is no exception. Our population has doubled every 20 years for the last five decades. However, experience has shown that adding capacity with more highway lanes is not a sustainable solution. There must be a multi-modal approach that includes bike lanes, buses, rail, and better sidewalks so that people don’t always have to drive. But investing in our transportation infrastructure will cost money. To pay for these needed investments in Austin and other cities, I support raising a modest gas tax dedicated to urban transportation needs. The state has not raised the gas tax since 1991. Gas tax revenue is imperfect, it continues to decline because of improved fuel efficiency. However, it is a proven option and letting the Highway Fund languish is a disservice to Texans. In 2015, Texas A & M Transportation Institute scientists produced a study that shows raising the gas tax by 5 cents a gallon would generate $846 million for fiscal year 2015 alone.
To improve transportation and mobility in the district I will support legislation to:
- Add additional members to the Capitol Metro Board of Directors, including one member that uses Capitol Metro as their primary means of transportation and one representative from labor. A larger, more diverse board of directors will better guide Capitol Metro as it makes important transportation investments.
- Allow Texas cities to adopt a local gas tax option by public vote. The local gas tax would be used by the city to invest in multi-modal transportation needs, including roads, buses, rail, bicycle lanes and sidewalk improvements.
- Bury I-35 through central Austin and reconnect the street grid over the buried expressway. A reconnected downtown street grid will help people more easily move east and west across central Austin and make it much easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the interstate. The surface area above the interstate could be public land with parks and other amenities.
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