Over the past few months, we have had the pleasure of speaking with and interviewing Katherine Turner-Pearson, Archaeologist and Democrat Candidate for Texas House of Representatives. Ms. Pearson is running against a Republican who has held the seat for nearly 16 years. Ms. Turner-Pearson was kind enough to take some time away from her grassroots campaign to answer a selection of your questions.
Tim: Regarding running for public office for the first time, what was the spark that lit the tinderbox?
Katherine: I never thought I’d run for public office; I was quite content to be an archaeologist. But I found myself with a judicial appointment (by a Republican judge and I’m a Democrat) to the McLennan County Tax Appraisal Review Board (ARB) for the last four years. And I felt good that I was helping my community. Then the political climate changed dramatically nationally and in Texas and I found myself increasingly dissatisfied and angry over the direction politics were moving. I kept thinking, “Somebody needs to do something.” Then I realized, “Oh yeah… I’m somebody.” After much soul-searching, I stepped off the cliff and announced I was running for Texas House District 56.
I kept thinking, “Somebody needs to do something.” Then I realized, “Oh yeah… I’m somebody.”
T: What are the top issues you hope to address if you take office?
K: The main thing I hope to bring to the Texas House is a logical, critical thinking approach to the state legislature. I think that is an innate way of looking at things for an archaeologist and something that would serve the Texas legislature well. As far as specific issues:
- I want to increase school funding. I feel that school funding is essential to the future of Texas; however the Texas legislature is reducing funding more and more each year. Tax payers have to make up the difference, and some schools in my district are failing.
- The Maternal Mortality Rate. The Maternal Mortality rate in Texas not only surpasses any other US state, it is higher than most third world countries with 35.8 out of 100,00 births. To put it in perspective, Japan is 5 per 100,000 and Poland is 3 per 100,000 births. The US rate doubled between 2012 and 2014, yet it doesn’t seem to be a crisis in the Texas legislature. We have to determine the cause(s) and stop it.
- The Property Tax Appraisal System. After spending four years on the Tax Appraisal Review Board (ARB) I see ways that the property tax appraisal regulations could be adjusted to make the system more equitable across the board for property owners (personal and business properties).
- Texas Prison Reform. Texas incarcerates more people than any other state and most
countries; it costs the tax payers a fortune, yet it does not deter crime. The current system is broken and needs major changes.
(5) Legislative Budget, Spending, and Waste. The Texas legislature wastes money and gets little accomplished during the legislative session (even with special seasons). I will address the budget and wasteful spending, and push to actually get things accomplished during the regular session.
T: Has being a small business owner brought any insight into your views on the Affordable Care Act?
K: I am lucky; my husband works for the federal government and we get our health issuance through his job. But I talk to other small business owners that do have to use the ACA systems. So far, my friends have told me they got that same insurance for themselves and their employees at a lower price this year than last, so that is encouraging. I was dismayed to see that this year The White House cut the enrollment time in half and the advertising budget by 90%. This is an apparent attempt to purposefully make people miss the deadline. I worry people will miss the enrollment period and slip through the cracks.
Public archaeology has a huge impact toward educating the community not only of the history of their area but of the importance of preservation. The more outreach by archaeologists, the better the community understanding, and the more pressure on politicians to legislate historic conservation.
T: Both politics and archaeology continue to have an out sized proportion of males compared to the actual population of the country. Do you feel your experience in archaeology has prepared you for politics in Texas?
K: Yes I do, but not so much the male/female ratio situation, as I feel archaeologists are very accepting of females in leadership roles. I feel that archaeologists are critical thinkers by nature, and critical thinkers are what are needed in Austin. Thinking about a situation critically, reading up on the issue, studying the issue, and then coming to a logical conclusion is something desperately needed in Austin; archaeologists are well prepared for this.
T: Archaeology is political. What do you see as the most important theoretical perspective in the field, and how do you feel it is contributing to the political discourse within and beyond the field?
K: Archaeology is not innately political; politicians make it political. Currently anything scientific is made into a political matter, from the origins of the earth to global warming. My district is deeply religious, and some people want to make evolution and the age of humans in North America a political issue based on certain religious beliefs. Thankfully the majority of people in the district are accepting of science and it’s not a decisive factor here for political candidates. I have found that on the campaign trail many people want to discuss archaeology with me, particularly the Waco Indians and the Gault Site. That is refreshing. Public archaeology has a huge impact toward educating the community not only of the history of their area but of the importance of preservation. The more outreach by archaeologists, the better the community understanding, and the more pressure on politicians to legislate historic conservation.
T: What will you do to advocate for historic preservation in your district?
K: The Texas Historic Commission has come under fire in previous years and their budget, along with the budgets of other state agencies with archaeology departments, were cut significantly. I will try to bring an understanding concerning archaeology and preservation to the Texas legislature. If the Texas House and Senate understand and appreciate the importance of historic preservation, then perhaps future Texas legislation will reflect sensitivity to cultural resources.
T: Square or round shovel test pits?
K: Square pits; I can’t help myself.
T: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck on the campaign trail.
K: Thank you.