“I am a vegetarian. I ride my bike. I listen to Selena.” This is how 23-year-old Huey Rey Fischer describes himself. Fischer graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May of 2014, and now he is running in this year’s election for House District 49’s open seat.
Story by Rebecca Sostek
Photos by Kristin Evans
On UT’s campus, primary season comes with loads of information on the voting process, politicians chasing registered-to-vote students down West Mall and accessible voting stations. Paradoxically, however, this abundance of information consistently couples with a low voter turnout. Multiple candidates, including Fischer, are working to change that this year. Candidates running for an array of positions, as well as fellow students in support of them, are seen daily in West Mall approaching as many UT students as possible and informing them about their ability and duty to vote.
While it is common knowledge that a new president will be elected in 2016, this election is also critical at the local level for Travis County residents. In particular, the HD 49 seat is drawing a heightened amount of attention because the dean of the Travis County House delegation and previous HD 49 representative Elliot Naishtat resigned after 26 years in office. The position's responsibilities include the consideration of laws, resolutions and constitutional amendments and the appropriation of all funds for the operation of state government. Naishtat’s exit removes a leading progressive voice from a primarily conservative chamber and a coveted seat open for HD 49, which covers the area of Austin running between I-35 and Mopac, from Braker to William Cannon. This area includes West Campus, North Campus and Riverside– where a majority of UT students reside.
Of the seven candidates running to fill the HD 49 position, Huey Rey Fischer is clearly the odd-man out, yet he also most closely resembles the constituents he is running to represent. To many, the most shocking thing about Fischer is his age. If elected, he would be the only one in the legislature under the age of 30. Fischer says his age should be seen as an important advantage over the other candidates. “We have a voice to play in politics,” Fischer says. “We feel tuition going up, we feel guns coming onto our campus, we feel the rising costs of rent in West and North Campus and even in Riverside.” Student Government vice-president Rohit Mandalapu argues that Fischer’s age is a strength for students. “With so many decisions being made in our state legislature affecting us such as Campus Carry and tuition regulation, it’s important to have a young leader who has close ties with higher education and cares about our perspective,” Mandalapu says. Fischer says he feels the struggles of students in Austin in a significantly more personal way than the other candidates. “When I didn’t have health insurance, I relied on Planned Parenthood for basic health care screenings,” he says. Fischer points out that, technically speaking, 18 to 24-year-olds in Austin do not have even one of the 181 legislative seats in the Capitol that can truly speak on their behalf; “Our voice is needed in that building,” he says.
Fischer says his age is not a hindrance on his experience, especially in comparison to those he is running against. “I have the most legislative experience out of the entire ballot,” Fischer says. “I have been mentored by former and current legislators. I know how the legislature operates and I know how to be effective.” Biology and government senior Taral Patel highlights how impressive Fischer’s campaign really is. “Huey is a recent graduate who has more experience than six lawyers, less money and is still considered the frontrunner in the race, which is incredible,” Patel says.
Still, not all students see Fischer as the only logical student choice for HD 49. Government senior Kiefer Odell is a proud supporter and employee of Heather Way, an HD 49 candidate and current UT Law professor. Odell believes that choosing an older candidate should have no reflection on his or her ability to represent the younger population and students in the legislature, specifically when considering Way. “I think it is a huge mischaracterization of her life achievements to say that another candidate in this race is the sole student choice as some have insisted,” Odell says.
From the start of his involvement with politics, Fischer says his priority has been improving the life of students. As an example, he says he intends to make housing near campus more affordable. “I have a set of policy proposals to actually address the rising property taxes and to address rising rent,” Fischer says. A good majority of UT students are renters who have no choice but to deal with hiking rent prices year after year. “Students need someone to start a serious conversation about it in the Capitol because right now, it’s not really happening,” Fischer says. As a renter himself, the candidate says he realizes renters’ struggle to find affordable, available housing near campus. “The cost of transportation increases and the quality of life decreases the further away you get from campus. We need to find ways to keep students closer to their campus,” he says.
Fischer says his passion for politics started at UT. He was president of the University Democrats, involved in the immigrant community at UT by helping student immigrants know their rights and an active member of the Liberal Arts Council. “I played a small role in many groups to connect thoughts and create a progressive coalition on campus,” Fischer says. Patel says that Fischer is being humble. “For a lot of students, Huey is the first person they met on campus because he would go to countless organization meetings and go around introducing himself to every single person in the room, no matter who it was,” Patel says.
Patel says Fischer’s level of involvement at UT not only prepared him for this position, but created a link between him and many students. “A lot of people are able to connect with Huey because he was so involved in so many student organizations, and still is so involved with student life,” Patel says. Mandalapu and Patel say that Fischer was the main correspondent between students and the legislature the night that SB 11, the Campus Carry bill, was passed. “Huey wrote over 100 amendments to stop the Campus Carry bill. Until midnight, he was in the chamber communicating with and getting testimonials from students in the event of a filibuster,” Patel says. “Huey helped with that whole debate, which was huge for the student body.”
Fischer’s activism at UT was not without conflict. Fischer and eighteen other students were arrested and spent a night in jail after protesting for workers’ rights in the UT Tower. At the time, UT was planning to layoff over one thousand campus employees without transparency or input from students, so Fischer fought back. “The administration was not listening to students. We were being railroaded, so we took action. As awful as jail is, it was worth it in the end because we won that campaign,” Fischer says. Patel says he believes that a win for Fischer could help decrease political apathy in younger voters. “Huey would get more young people involved in the legislative process by communicating with students and making internships more readily available to all students,” Patel says.
Fischer is the only non-attorney running for the position and openly acknowledges that he is over $44,000 in student loan debt. Therefore, his advertising funds run comparatively low. However, Fischer says the campaign manages to keep outreach lighthearted by utilizing some very important and affordable advertising techniques. “My Twitter and Instagram games are strong. Also, we are on Tinder and Grindr because singles deserve representation too,” Fischer jokes. “I guess that’s another area where my age helps. I cannot imagine my 45 year-old opponents trying to contact voters via Tinder,” he says a. Also, Fischer says his parents gladly take on campaigning responsibilities free of charge. “My dad is the director of Internet comments, self-anointed. He comments on everyone’s Facebooks, ‘Have you met my son Huey?’” he says.
Overall, Fischer says he is running for HD 49 because he shares UT students’ stories and the pains of most members of the HD 49 community. “I am the son of an undocumented mom from Mexico. I am the only openly queer candidate running in this race. I’m the only candidate under the age of 38. I’m the only renter in this race. I don’t live in a $600,000 home,” Fischer says. Patel says he agrees that Fischer’s greatest strength is the struggles he has been through. “He lived through our challenges, from mental health resources to getting contraception. All of these things are different at the university level than they are at the state level, and Huey was in our shoes literally a year ago,” Patel says. Mandalapu agrees that the greatest strength for Fischer is his recent personal experience. “Huey provides a fresh perspective in our state government that is often overlooked,” Mandalapu says.
In an article published in the Daily Texan in 2014, Fischer was interviewed about his work with the Capitol. In the article, Fischer states he never wants to run for public office, yet here he is. The candidate says that running was never his goal, but it is what the district needs, “I’m running against six affluent attorneys who don’t share the pains of many students at UT, so I’m taking this seat from them because we need this seat in the legislature more than they do.”
This article was updated March 1 to reflect that new information that government senior Kiefer Odell is employed by Heather Way.