I still remember the first door I knocked on as I began my race for the Texas Legislature. The TV was on at Mrs. Rodriguez’s house, so I knocked louder. The look on her face when she came to the door made me guess I interrupted her favorite TV show.
I was nervous. I introduced myself as a candidate and asked her a simple question: What is important to your neighborhood community? Her frown melted as I listened. On the top of her list was better schools for the children of her neighborhood, though she did not have school-age children.
The first lesson I learned on the front porch of Mrs. Rodriguez's home was that citizens hunger to be heard by their elected representatives. As an elected official, I would develop a deeper understanding of the importance of listening.
I was the undisputed underdog in my first campaign. I had little money. My opponent was a judge backed by the political establishment. By conventional wisdom, my opponent should have won.
I threw everything I had into the campaign. I quit my job and took in roommates to cover my house payment and student loans. I pounded the pavement and passed out a Listening Survey with four simple but important questions, sowing the seeds of connection and communication.
Every day for nine months I knocked on doors until, by the campaign’s end, I had knocked on the doors of more than 4,000 homes. One at a time I got to know the people I represent. I’m convinced taking the time to learn about their needs and dreams gave me the edge despite my opponent’s money and endorsements.
On election night, supporters packed my house and campaign headquarters on Blanco Road. The crowd was brimming with a renewed sense of hope about campaigns and elections. When the last ballot box was counted I pulled ahead by one vote, a lead later fortified in a runoff. One vote! That night, every supporter who voted believed they won the election for me. And they did.
Looking back, Mrs. Rodriguez really wanted more than a representative in government who was going to listen. She wanted me to put myself in her shoes and understand why she saw her neighborhood children as the key to a better future. I learned from my first campaign the importance of empathy. Too often we as a society fall short in empathizing with others.
This is also true of politicians. We, state lawmakers, never would have waited three years had it been our child trapped at a Texas Youth Commission facility being sexually abused by guards. If more of our children attended public schools, we also never would have passed a school finance bill that made no new meaningful investment in our public schools. Bringing it closer to home—if we considered teachers our true equals—we would not have voted to tighten their pension program, while voting an increase in our own.