*Please note – this interview is part of a series, during which the Austin EcoNetwork will be interviewing and profiling several Austinites considering a run for elected office at the state and federal levels. If you’re a candidate thinking about tossing your hat into the rink and would like to be profiled, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org*
Meet Joseph Kopser, the man who is considering a run against one of the most vocal climate change deniers in Congress.
Kopser is an army veteran and local entrepreneur who is currently exploring a run against US Representative Lamar Smith for Texas’ 21st US Congressional District. The district includes downtown and south Austin, as well as large swaths of the Hill Country and parts of San Antonio. For over 30 years, this district has been represented by Lamar Smith in Congress. Kopser is thinking about trying to change that. (You can figure out which US Congressional District you live in here).
The Austin EcoNetwork’s Editor-In-Chief, Amy Stansbury, sat down with Kopser on Thursday to talk about his decision to consider a run for Congress, his ideas for improving Central Texas, and to get to know the man who might one day fight for the chance to represent this region in Washington DC.
You can watch the entire video interview above. But for those who don’t have time to watch the entire clip, we’ve put together a brief summary below:
Who is Joseph Kopser?
- President of Grayline,which works to bring together experts, data and solutions to help companies and public institutions manage disruptive change.
- Co-founder and former CEO of RideScout, an app that combined multimodal trip planning and purchasing all in one place
- Co-founder of 60x30Works, whose aim is to empower 60 percent of Texans aged 25-34 to earn a post-secondary certificate or degree by 2030, so that Texas can remain competitive in a 21st economy.
- Army Veteran
- Currently lives in Austin with his wife and three daughters
- Is considering a run for Texas’ 21 US Congressional District seat as a Democrat
So why is he thinking about running?
Kopser has a of long list of reasons why he’s considering running for Congress, but one of the primary ones is his potential opponent’s opinions on climate change and science. The current representative for District 21, Lamar Smith, is one of the most vocal climate change deniers in Congress and since he is chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the impact of his opinions and ideas on climate are far-reaching.
In response to a 2014 White House report about the impacts of climate change in the US, Smith said that the report was designed, “to frighten Americans into believing that any abnormal weather we experience is the direct result of human CO2 emissions.In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms.”
Kopser finds statements like these harmful, saying that they go beyond just hurting climate change action and research in this country to hurting the very field of science itself. “We need NASA, we need science, we need the EPA…and if you’re sending a message that says that, ‘I challenge these beliefs, I challenge your results, I don’t believe what you’re saying and I want to take another look at it’…but that negative message toward science and technology has an even deeper effect than just this district, which is to cause young Americans… to question whether or not science and technology is even a real discipline.”
This concept of “making science fake” is very concerning to Kopser and is one of the major reasons why he’s considering a run for Congress.
Jobs and Education
Another one of Kopser’s main points of focus in jobs and job training in Central Texas and across the US. He spoke specifically about Donald Trump’s campaign promises to bring back coal jobs to areas of the country that have not seen many benefits from 21st century technologies and innovations. For Kopser, the issues these people are dealing with are real, but they’re not being dealt with effectively.
“And so when politicians promise people that they’re going to bring back jobs that in reality, the science, the data, and the business market forces have already said no thank-you, that kind of crony political populism doesn’t sit well with me…,” Kopser said during his AEN interview.
Instead, he talked about being honest about the fact that coal jobs are in decline, and said that the country should focus on job training programs that match the needs of a 21st century economy. He also stressed the importance improving education so that future generations are prepared to join the modern workforce. He pointed to programs like SA Works in San Antonio and ACC apprenticeship programs in Austin that directly connect students with job opportunities that are available today.
“Because if we don’t, if we keep our heads in the sand, we’re going to have even bigger problems going forward that neither Democrats nor Republicans can solve because we’re not talking about the real issues, and the changing demographics, the changes in technology and innovation,” Kopser said, “but I’m happy to talk about those things.”
Of course, transportation is always a major issue in Central Texas and is another area where Kopser would like to see action and change.
First, Kopser stressed the importance of focusing “more on maintenance and less on ribbon cuttings” when it comes to infrastructure spending. He said that all too often Congress doesn’t spend the time or the money making sure that the infrastructure that we do have lasts.
He also said that there needs to be more focus on providing and incentivizing a multitude of transportation options. That can include encouraging employers to allow their employees to have more flexible schedules, as well as improving the regions’ high speed internet connectivity to allow more people to work from home or start small tech businesses in the towns surrounding Austin (so that they don’t have to commute all the way into the city).
Improved bus service and better public transportation all along the 1-35 corridor is also something that Kopser said is important.
“This region is too wonderful, too nice, the weather’s too fantastic, there are too many opportunities outdoors, to think that we’re going to stop people from moving here. We don’t want to ever stop the people from moving here,” Kopser said. “We want to make sure that when they do choose to move here, we have efficient and smart plans to house them, educate them, and to move them around.”
At this point, Kopser is still exploring whether or not he is actually going to run. One of the ways he’s been testing the waters is with a website called Crowdpac, which is kind of like a Kickstarter for political campaigns. Here’s how it works – potential candidates can set up a fundraising goal to gauge how much community support they have. Anyone who is interested can make a pledge, but no one is actually charged until and unless the candidate decides to run.
Primaries for the Texas’ 21st US Congressional District are in March of 2018 and the election will be in November of that year.
Kopser is not shy about the fact that winning out over a 30+ year incumbent is no easy task, but he says the key to change is increased civic involvement.
“Let’s be very clear about one thing. The way our system is designed, we get the exact politics that we put into it. So if we have people not participate as much, then people in elected office… are free to do and to pass legislation and make regulations in a way that they want to…” Kopser said.
This lack of participation from the general public means that politicians don’t feel the competition from the other side of the political isle, Kopser explained.
“Instead of being able to serve and innovate with better ideas in the center… they’re focused on the extreme ends of their base,” Kopser said.
In closing out the interview, Kopser left viewers with one final thought, explaining that for him a potential run will be about, “… jobs, education, and our kids’ future, and I think that’s a simple enough message that I can hopefully get out over the district if I were to decide to run.”
Kopser isn’t the only Democrat considering a run against Smith. Several others have also expressed an interest, including Derrick Crowe (a local progressive organizer and former Congressional staffer), Elliott McFadden (Executive Director of Austin B-cycle), Ryan Allen (an emergency physician). The Race To Replace Lamar Smith has put together a list of Democrats considering a run for Texas’ 21st US Congressional seat, which you can check out here. (As the name implies, the Race to Replace Lamar Smith is a group of Democrat organizers working to oust Smith from office). Stay tuned for additional profiles and interviews with some of the other Central Texans considering a run against Smith.
*It is the Austin EcoNetwork’s policy never to endorse candidates running for political office. All articles written about candidates are designed to simply educate and inform the public and should not be perceived as an endorsement.*