Texas

Oaths, M&Ms, and the Historic Quran: Texas Freshman Legislators Begin Their First Legislative Session

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Putting your hand on the centuries-old Koran, Salman Bhojani was sworn in Tuesday as one of the first Muslim representatives in the Texas Legislature, along with a member of the House of Representatives. Suleman Lalani.

The Bhojani Quran copy is the first English copy printed in America. He bought a historical text from an online auction to display in his office. He would like to convey the text to the Muslim legislators who follow him.

“I have a big responsibility on my shoulders to make sure that I can inspire the next generation of youth, South Asians or Muslims, as well as minorities in general and immigrant communities who do not think they can achieve this,” Bhojani said. . “But if I can do it, they can do it even better because I’m just a first generation.”

More than a year after the Texas Legislature concluded its third special legislative session in October 2021, it welcomed the return of elected politicians, along with their families, staff members and supporters. first day of session 2023.

And in the afternoon, the two houses met and sworn in 181 state representatives and senators, including dozens of new members.

Bhojani, a Democrat representing part of Tarrant County, is making history among the 26 new House representatives who have already been sworn in. Another legislator in this category is Caroline Harriswho is the youngest Republican woman in the state of Texas, she was 28 when she won the 2022 election.

Bhojani just got the keys to his office over the weekend. It is hidden in the part of the Capitol reserved for the new legislators. His employees took out two cabinets with documents left over from the former tenant. They still have boxes to unpack and tables to move.

When he arrived on Tuesday, he found his desk littered with muesli bars, bananas and water for his supporters. Hundreds of visitors to the Capitol came from all over the state and country to see the swearing-in ceremony.

One 14-year-old from the Dallas-Fort Worth area said he skipped school to visit the State Capitol with his father: “That’s more important,” the boy told Bhojani’s wife, Nima.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani is sworn in on a copy of the Quran on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session at the State Capitol in Austin on January 10, 2023. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-HD92, takes a selfie with his family and supporters after attending an interfaith ceremony on the morning of the opening day of the 88th Legislative Session at the State Capitol in Austin on January 10, 2023.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-HD92, takes a selfie with his family and supporters after attending an interfaith ceremony on the morning of the opening day of the 88th Legislative Session at the State Capitol in Austin on January 10, 2022. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-HD92, and his son carefully move the Koran on which he was sworn in during a meeting with supporters at the State Capitol in Austin on January 10, 2022.

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-HD92, and his son carefully move the Koran on which he was sworn in during a meeting with supporters at the State Capitol in Austin on January 10, 2022. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune.

First: State Rep. Salman Bhojani takes a selfie with his family and supporters after attending an interfaith ceremony on Tuesday morning. Latest: Bhojani and his son carefully move the Koran on which he was sworn in during a meeting with supporters at the State Capitol in Austin on Tuesday. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune.

Bhojani said many of his South Asian constituencies are not involved in politics and do not understand the inner workings of the state government. But he hopes to offer them a glimpse into the political world.

“You’re next,” he told a young voter after the swearing-in ceremony, urging the teen to consider entering politics.

“Our community, as a rule, does not take part in political life. So we don’t know who our elected officials are,” Bhojani told supporters in a packed hall he had booked for a viewing party. “I want to build a bridge for people and just connect them with the right people to make something happen.”

Bhojani and Lalani, a Democrat from Sugar Land, enter a legislature that has been heavily influenced by Christian nationalism in recent years.

But Bhojani insisted that state legislators can and should think about commonalities among Texans of different faiths. On Tuesday morning at an interfaith service on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Bhojani preached about righting wrongs and leading with compassion.

During his term, Bhojani wants to focus on “kitchen table issues” such as building a strong economy that will allow small businesses to take off and prioritize early childhood education.

However, there is much to learn as a freshman legislator. For example, before he submits a bill, he needs to check if a higher-ranking member is working on similar legislation so that he doesn’t step on anyone’s toes.

He would also need to learn shortcuts in and around the Capitol – in the heat of the first day, he took a wrong turn on his way back to his office.

Harris, whose newly redrawn and redder area covers parts of Williamson County, there will be no such problem.

Prior to her election, she had been a staffer for several years, zigzagging through four offices in the State Capitol, including one in the basement and another on the fourth floor, which overlooks Congress Avenue and sees a constant throng of tourists from all over the world. .

“I know where the toilets are, so that’s very helpful,” she said with a laugh.

Harris woke up Tuesday morning thinking about her volunteers and constituents.

“No one can do this on their own,” the Round Rock resident said during an interview in her new office. “It almost brought me to tears thinking of the incredible people on my team, including the voters.”

Tucked away from the lobby of her office, where her grandparents, parents, and nearly all of her 10 siblings gathered before the ceremony, Harris’s room is decked out with family photos and a brown cow-pattern rug she brought from home.

State Rep. Caroline Harris in her Capitol office on the first day of the 88th Legislative Session, January 10, 2023.

Rep. Caroline Harris in her office at the State Capitol on the first day of the 2023 legislative session, January 10, 2023. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune.

State Rep. Caroline Harris receives a prayer of blessing in her Capitol office on the first day of the 88th Legislative Session, January 10, 2023.

State Rep. Caroline Harris receives a prayer of blessing in her Capitol office on the first day of the 88th Legislative Session, January 10, 2023. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune.

State Rep. Caroline Harris sits at her desk on the floor of the House of Representatives surrounded by family on the first day of the 88th legislative session on January 10, 2023.

State Rep. Caroline Harris sits at her desk on the floor of the House of Representatives surrounded by family on the first day of the 88th legislative session on January 10, 2023. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune.

First: Rep. Caroline Harris receives a prayer of blessing in her Capitol office on the first day of the 2023 legislative session on Tuesday. Last: Harris sits at his desk on the floor of the House, surrounded by family. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune.

Gifts lie on her new desk, including a jar full of red, white and blue M&Ms with her face printed on them, as well as a gift bag from a member of the state House of Representatives. Brad BuckleyR-Killeen, which includes containers of green pepper jelly and honey.

“I hope that along with all the good policies I can implement, I can also serve as an inspiration to young people as well as women from all walks of life,” she added.

Harris most recently served as a political adviser to a state senator. Brian HughesR-Mineola, author basic conservative legislation in 2021, including laws that restrict voting processes and create near total ban on abortion in Texas.

“I’ve been on the edge of the spear when it comes to passing conservative legislation in Texas and I know what it takes to hit the ground running and succeed from day one,” she wrote in Ballotpedia Poll during her campaign.

An hour after the interview, Harris and other state representatives were sworn into the 88th Texas Legislature. Standing next to her grandfather on the floor of the House, she hugged him and wiped away her tears.

“It’s a building that you can participate in at a young age, you can make a big difference at a young age,” she reflected before the ceremony on her time at the State Capitol.

Harris now plans to use the fund to advance his priorities, including lowering property taxes, securing the border, increasing transparency in health care, and improving services for women.

In addition, she wants to be a member of the Appropriations Committee, a standing committee that discusses issues related to the state budget. re-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives Dade PhelanR-Beaumont will likely appoint a committee in the coming weeks.

“As a freshman, you don’t have as many opportunities to carry many bills as someone who has been here longer,” Harris said. “I’d like to start with that and look into the budgeting process because I think that’s going to give me a really good foundation to move forward.”

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