Despite volunteering, protesting, and voting, after former President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, first-generation Romanian-American Mihaela Plesa said something told her it wasn’t enough.
So as one does, she dropped everything to be as civically engaged as possible.
“I quit my job and went down to Austin and took an unpaid internship in the 85th legislative session,” she said. “I worked with representative Shawn Thierry from Harris County and just basically fell in love with legislation and policy. I realized we have the power to bring results back to our community if we engage with the process that is set up.”
Six years later, after winning by 821 votes, Plesa made history as the first Democrat to represent Collin County in the state house in 30 years.
She currently works as the Legislative Director for House District 125 State Representative Ray Lopez’s office representing Bexar County.
Now she’ll be at the state capitol representing her own North Texas community.
The Signal spoke to House District 70 State Representative-Elect Plesa on her win, policy priorities, the Texas legislature, and more.
So today is the first day of pre-filing bills to the Texas Legislature. How are the entry meetings going?
“Unfortunately for me, I do not have my legislative account set up. We don’t get access to filing our bills till Jan. 10. So freshmen do come in a little bit behind the eight ball. We’re definitely looking at filing legislation around fixing our foster care system, fixing our public school finance system, making sure that families get access to good quality childcare that’s affordable.”
You mentioned some issues that have been very important to Texans over the years. What specifically did you hear from voters that you want to address?
“Our number one issue for us will definitely be public school finance reform. Plano ISD is one of the largest recapture districts, meaning we send money back to the state. This year we sent back over $24 million, leaving my school district with a deficit of around $40 million. That prevents us from hiring amazing staff and getting resources for our kiddos. The state of Texas is one of the [last] when we look at per-student spending, so we need to increase that. We need to index it to inflation so that it keeps up with time. And I would also like to add a basic allotment for mental health so that our school districts have access to resources and funding to combat some of the anxiety and mental health we’ve seen.”
Do you identify as a progressive, and what does that mean now as a legislator?
“I really hate how people try to pigeonhole politicians. I’ve never said I was a progressive, or I don’t like to label these things. Let’s be real; the spectrum has shifted so far to the right that I knock on doors and hear so many Republicans that say they don’t know where they fit in anymore. Like they can be Republicans but still, believe a woman should have access to healthcare. She shouldn’t have to have a stroke or [be] dying to get medical treatment. So I don’t think believing women should have the right to an abortion or healthcare is a progressive idea. Those aren’t progressive ideas, wanting your lights on and your water clean. So I think the legislature being so imbalanced, having the leadership we’ve had for almost my entire life, has shifted the norm on how we talk about these things. I wish the narrative wouldn’t be so much red and blue and start going back to the people and what they really want.”
I ask because we’ve seen, especially at the state level in the legislature, the majority body focuses on these “culture war” issues.
“It’s unfortunate, like normal people, that’s not what they’re concerned about at the doors. My campaign knocked on tens of thousands of doors. When you are talking to them and asking them for their vote, the people on the doors are saying, “hey, my kid’s band teacher just had to leave her position.” Or “I’m really worried because my property taxes are going up, and I don’t understand why.” So those are the issues. I’ve never knocked on the door, and somebody’s first issue was, “I’m really concerned about CRT in schools.” It’s healthcare; it’s public education, it’s transportation. I think that’s what my district showed. My district was a true competitive toss-up district, and the voters chose to go with common sense messaging instead of fearmongering.”
So how did you pull off the win?
“This was a team effort. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors. Our volunteers were out every day. We had about $3 million go up against us in this race from basically special interest groups, and we just kept our heads down and did the work. We never lost focus on what was important: the voter and the people. Our conversations always started with, ‘how can your state government be of service to you?’ They’re not just voting for you; they’re voting for themselves too.”
Specifically, regarding healthcare, there has been a rumor of Texas Republicans considering exceptions to the state abortion ban. What’s your position?
“I believe Texas needs to reexamine this issue completely. We know that women have been dying since this ban was enacted. The state legislature knows that. The governor’s office knows that. Dade Phelan’s office knows that, and that’s because they are unwilling to release the maternal mortality numbers. And that’s very concerning. When we see that data, it will be evident that we need to create exceptions. Put it up for a vote to the people. Have the legislature pass a constitutional amendment to go up in front of people to codify these protections under the state constitution. That will be fair, and the people will speak. I will definitely be at the forefront for exemptions to file outside of rape and incest; that’s not enough. This has to be a priority for the legislature if they respect women in this state. We can’t be second-class citizens.”
Her term as HD-70 state representative starts in the next legislative session on Jan. 10, 2023.